A telecommunications company bundling a bunch of fiber optic lines north of Brookings might not sound like a big deal to Del Norte County residents. But it's a key piece in solving our puzzle.

Charter Business announced Wednesday that it plans to lay in Curry County a new line that offers much greater capability and reliability for Internet users. Del Norte County residents will be able to connect to that fiber optic system and take advantage of the same benefits.

These days, businesses and individuals rely on Internet connections more than ever. When a line goes down - as it all too frequently does in Del Norte County - so also do businesses. Retailers rely on it to run credit and debit cards. Managers use it to review company records and read correspondence. Students and workers use it for long-distance learning and training. Tourists use it to check their e-mail and locate local destinations and restaurants. A growing number of Del Norte County residents run Web-based businesses from the comfort of their homes. The Internet is as indispensible to a modern business as our highway system.

Unfortunately, Del Norte Internet connections can be spotty. Earlier this year, retailers found themselves turning away customers because of a severed link. Businesses who rely extensively on the Internet frequently report interrupted service that brings their workplace to a virtual halt. Meanwhile, limited broadband connections hinders our community's ability to attract new businesses and hampers local residents from taking full advantage of all the Web has to offer.

Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority administrator Kim Schmidt deserves kudos for his work in helping land the Curry County link. It was Schmidt who had the foresight and good instinct to contract with JIrwin Community Informatics Consulting, which in turn courted Charter Business.

Economic growth cannot occur if we don't first ensure the infrastructure exists to support new businesses and development. Telecommunications, such as fiber optics, is as an important element of that infrastructure these days as are decent roads, water lines or electricity. On Wednesday, we just took a significant step forward in obtaining that infrastructure.