As Co-Chair of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, I am fighting to ensure that our nation’s rural and unserved populations are no longer left on the sidelines, but instead gain access to key services such as telemedicine, online education, and applications that help small businesses compete in the 21st Century. Currently almost 50% of rural Virginians either lack access to high speed internet, while 29% don’t have any internet service at all.
High speed broadband has the potential to revolutionize and improve the way rural populations live their lives, including the potential to expand economic opportunity and fuel our economy. As folks in urban areas today benefit from the everyday experiences of online banking, email, or ridesharing, rural populations continue to be left on the sideline. It is essential that any federal efforts to close the digital divide focus on the truly unserved first.
As Americans have been adapting to a new way of life as a result of COVID-19, high-speed internet access has become a necessity, now more than ever. In Virginia, our schools have been shuttered and our health care facilities have limited space and access. With the increased dependence on telework, distance learning, and telehealth, our telecommunications infrastructure must be able to handle increased capacity and build out connectivity to our most vulnerable. While high-speed internet access is easily available to our urban areas, our rural — and some of our suburban — communities have been caught at a standstill. As the federal government continues to negotiate plans to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, it is vital that Congress take steps to close the digital divide for rural Americans and make certain that Americans in every region are prepared if a similar emergency arrives in the future. That is why I introduced the Serving Rural America Act. The legislation would create a pilot grant program at the FCC, authorizing $500 million over five years to expand broadband service to unserved areas of the country. Under the act, grants will be awarded to eligible applicants that will consist of a partnership between an internet service provider and a locality (such as a county or planning district commission). Moreover, the program prioritizes the funding to areas without 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload capabilities. The program will help bring high-speed internet to approximately 19 million Americans, many of whom are in rural communities — thus, bringing them into the 21st-century economy. As America relies increasingly on technology in everyday life, I will continue to work to make sure that rural communities don’t suffer the long-term impacts of the digital divide.
I am leading the effort to bring unserved and underserved regions of Virginia into the digital revolution. I have hosted several Broadband Task Force meetings throughout the First District with key stakeholders from the telecommunications industry, small business, and federal government, including FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, to discuss broadband expansion, the challenges we face in getting service to the truly unserved, and how to overcome them. We discuss the importance of eliminating the labyrinth of red tape and regulations, defining prescriptive easements, establishing dig once policies, and strengthening public-private partnerships.
In Congress, I fought to secure $600 million in new funds for rural broadband expansion in unserved areas and I have been working tirelessly to direct those funds to projects in the First District. I also have worked with the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to ensure that broadband expansion be part of any long-term infrastructure package, as it is critical to closing the gap between rural and urban job growth opportunities in Virginia. Expanding access to high-speed internet is critical to economic development and growth in our nation.
As Co-Chair of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, I am fighting to ensure that our nation’s rural and unserved populations are no longer left on the sidelines, but instead gain access to key services such as telemedicine, online education, and applications that help small businesses compete in the […]Read More