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robohand11Ever stop to take a look at the people around you getting coffee or on the bus?  They all have their heads buried into their smartphones and tablets— headphones in and eyes rarely looking up.  But, you probably don’t notice because you’re doing the same thing.

The Internet has revolutionized our day-to-day communications.  We live in a time when texts have replaced phone calls, video chats have replaced home visits, and mobile apps allow us to check account balances, monitor blood pressure, and control home appliances from anywhere, anytime.

Even as the Internet has changed our daily lives in ways that are so seamless we don’t notice, it has also sparked innovations that are transforming entire industries in ways that should make us stop and applaud.  A recent story in PopSci  recounts one way in which digital technology can make the unimaginable possible.

It all started when an artisan carpenter in South Africa, who suffered an accident severing his fingers on the job, stumbled upon a YouTube video of a velociraptor-like claw made by a mechanical special effects artist in Bellingham.  The two men—10,000 miles apart—were able to exchange ideas over emails and Skype sessions before meeting in person to construct a prosthetic hand for Liam, a 5-year-old boy in South Africa.

Thanks to high-speed Internet, this innovative duo was able to collaborate and give Liam, who was born without fingers on his right hand, a better quality of life.  And with what started as a simple YouTube video has blossomed into the next remarkable development in prosthetics as the two pioneers spread the word and seek support of their innovation on the Robohand Facebook page.

The Internet itself is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century.  But it isn’t a one-hit wonder.  The Internet makes other innovations across all spectrums of life possible.  Access to advanced high-speed Internet drives boundless innovation, connecting lives and improving quality of life.

But all of this doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  We need good schools and training to turn out the best and brightest computer scientists and engineers.  And we need the right regulations that provide incentives for the private sector to invest the dollars that turn their dreams into reality and that support the infrastructure on which the Internet lives.   Advanced next generation networks are able to deliver all kinds of data (Internet, voice, video, text) at much faster speeds than ever before, but we need the continued building of this infrastructure to support the consumer benefits state of the art networks and services bring.

Washington policymakers are doing their part to help create happy partnerships like the one that benefited Liam.  A recent report by TechNet distinguishes Washington as one of the top three states in the nation for broadband adoption, network quality, and economic support of broadband.

If the communications industry and government can work together to ensure the build out of advanced high-speed networks, it will further open an untapped world of new technology that enhances quality of life every day, just like Robohand.

Tom Gurr is Executive Director of Pacific Technology Alliance , an Issaquah-based, grassroots organization working to increase access to technology.

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