Rural Broadband Expansion Should Remain High Priority

Most of the time, I like old relics of communication.

When I worked as a radio broadcaster, we decorated our studio with antique wooden radios and classic-style microphones, harkening back to the medium’s golden age.
I also chuckle every time I see an old telephone.

Stacy’s parents have an old, rotary-dial phone hanging on their wall complete with a coiled cable that will stretch anywhere in the house. My two children love that phone, and it’s served my in-laws faithfully for decades.

And then who doesn’t enjoy a hand-written letter? Retrieving a hand-written note from a mailbox can bring a smile to the face of someone on the worst of days.

These are fond forms of old communication. There are other forms I’ll never miss.
I’m OK with never hearing the noisy whirr and ping of a dial-up computer modem establishing an Internet connection. After it connects, I’m tasked with load-times that are so long, the service itself becomes useless with today’s picture and video-intensive websites.

Yet, sadly, many of our rural communities have never experienced what it’s like to not worry about bandwidth capabilities, forcing them to make compromises in terms of education and commerce. These compromises should not happen, because they play a large role in restricting the competitiveness and health of our rural communities compared with urban areas.

I recently chaired a House hearing examining the availability and future investments of broadband in rural Congressional districts, such as Arkansas’ First District. During the hearing, we discussed how Rural America sits at a disadvantage when having access to broadband, largely due to the high costs associated with stretching broadband services in low population-dense areas. In fact, USDA Rural Utilities Service administrator John Padalino cited that 14 and a half million Americans in six and a half million rural households are still waiting for broadband access; a figure nearly five times Arkansas’ entire population.

I believe this slow expansion needs a solution.

Both rural and urban lawmakers should examine the financial challenges that come with building out these services for rural areas, because it benefits the nation as a whole. It’s a statement to our children they can succeed despite their surrounding population density. It encourages small businesses to stay put because they can reach more customers. It tells young families that opportunities abound in places with nary a traffic light.

Perhaps my fellow committee ranking member, Jim Costa, said it best: “Where you live should not determine the kinds of services that are available to you.”

I look forward to using the testimony gleaned from our hearing as a springboard for further discussion about how to increase broadband access to the area that needs it most — Rural America.

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