FORT MEADE, Fla. — Connect The Future (CTF) Florida, which focuses on encouraging investment in broadband deployment throughout the state, recognized on Monday former Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) and Representative Josie Tomkow (R-Polk City) with the organization’s Broadband Champion Award.

What You Need To Know

  • Connect The Future (CTF) Florida focuses on encouraging investment in broadband deployment throughout the state

  • The organization on Monday recognized former Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Representative Josie Tomkow with the Broadband Champion Award

  • CTF Florida website

The award acknowledges Sprowls’ and Tomkow’s work in creating Florida’s new $400-million Broadband Opportunity Program, officials with CTF Florida said.

The ceremony was held at Fort Meade Middle Senior High School (FMMSHS).

A panel discussion was held which included speakers Sprowls, Tomkow, Polk County Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Wayne Green, a FMMSHS teacher, and a FMMSHS student leader. The goal of the discussion, which was held in front of students and area stakeholders, is to focus on the effect of connectivity on educational opportunities in rural Florida, the persistent barriers to deploying broadband infrastructure, and the benefits rural Floridians stand to enjoy from the Broadband Opportunity Program, according to CTF Florida officials.

The panel was moderated by Group Vice President for State Government Affairs for Charter Communications Marva Johnson. Rep. Melony Bell (R-Fort Meade) gave opening remarks.

Before the panel discussion, Spectrum News spoke with a student at Fort Meade High School who discussed the importance of having reliable internet when it comes to education.

“If you’re given a laptop and you have no internet at home, it makes no difference not being able to access it,” said Karla Najera, who is a junior.

As the daughter of two former migrant farmworkers, Najera worried that a lack of connectivity could affect her becoming the first in her family to graduate and go to college. 

And while she may live in a mostly Spanish-speaking rural neighborhood, the word “accessibility” is a term that everyone there understands.

“I have internet, but just because I have it, it doesn’t mean the others that live in the same area as me have it, because some of them don’t,” Najera said.

But Polk County migrant interventionist teacher Meylin Nickerson says she has been fighting for this for years. She says high speed internet is the key to eliminating the slow process they currently have.

"I’ve been researching for many years how to get the best internet possible in some of these rural areas where my students do live, but I just hit roadblocks,” said Nickerson.

Karla is hopeful students in her community will benefit when broadband is finally added to their area.

“I think the opportunities are endless and they should keep pushing no matter what, no matter how hard it gets.”

Charter Communications is a partner of Connect The Future, an external organization focused on broadband expansion.