U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-1) chaired a hearing Tuesday regarding future investments in broadband for rural areas across America.
Rural America sits at a disadvantage when having access to broadband, due in large part to the excessive costs associated with the build-out of broadband services.
“Rural broadband is a critical, 21st century investment for areas like the First District of Arkansas,” said Crawford. “The financial challenges that come with building out these services for rural areas should be a focus of lawmakers in both rural and urban areas of our country. I believe that the information provided at today’s hearing will serve as a springboard to more discussions about how to increase broadband access to the areas that need it most – rural America.”
One of the panel’s witnesses, Lang Zimmerman of Yelcot Communications in Mountain Home, Ark., spoke on behalf of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association. Zimmerman emphasized the need to expand broadband access to rural areas.
“Rural broadband is an investment with real benefit and returns for the nation as a whole,” Zimmerman said. “To not have access to high-speed Internet in this day and age is unimaginable to most people, yet millions of Americans live in areas – mostly in rural territory served by carriers other than small, rate-of-return providers – where there is no robust broadband that enables meaningful access to the countless economic and educational opportunities available through the Internet.”
Nevertheless, despite great interest to further broadband access to rural areas, recent expansion attempts have faced problems.
When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in 2009, USDA suspended implementing the 2008 Farm Bill’s loan program that served as a conduit for the development of broadband services in rural areas. At the same time, the FCC embarked on Universal Service Fund reforms to facilitate development of broadband services. However, when combined with the changes made through the Recovery Act, this action created uncertainty about fund availability for further broadband development. In addition, it all but stopped broadband services from being further developed for the remainder of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Crawford said it is unfortunate that programs furthering broadband development in the 2008 Farm Bill were affected by the President’s stimulus bill.
“Coupled with reforms undertaken by the FCC, these converging circumstances set back investment in broadband across rural America,” he said. “I’m hopeful this hearing will encourage lawmakers to look at the information being submitted by the Rural Utility Service and our industry witnesses, examining ways we can jump-start these programs so that rural Arkansas and rural America no longer lag behind in development of rural broadband resources.”