Letter to the Editor

Broadband access: One of the biggest infrastructure issues of the decade

Thursday, March 9, 2017

We were having a terrific legislative update and community meeting. Our room at the Perry County Chamber was full of constituents—young and old. Chamber Executive Director, Will Nunley, had decided to live stream the conversation via Facebook. Simple task, fool proof, he thought. The Chamber is located about 100 yards from the internet hub in Linden. No more than five minutes into our discussion, I noticed the light on his camera disappeared as the internet signal gave out, connectivity lost. The irony of this particular moment was that our conversation had just turned to the importance of rural broadband expansion.

This occurrence and frustration is one that is known by teachers, business owners, health professionals and elected officials in our state’s rural counties. They get the signal and then it slows, it stops and the connection breaks. It is why I have made rural broadband one of the primary issues in search of a solution for the US Congress and why I am working with the Federal Communications Commission, the administration and my Congressional colleagues to solve the problem. After being named the Chairman on the Subcommittee of Communications and Technology in the House Energy and Commerce Committee for the 115th Congress, I immediately knew that rural broadband expansion would be at the top of our priority list because it is an issue for Americans who live in rural and underserved areas. Of the 19 counties within the 7th District, we have communities that do not have dependable access to high speed internet. As we meet and work with our local and state elected officials, we know they are seeking to partner with us and providers in the private sector to increase access and to find solutions.

Broadband expansion is not just about surfing the web, it’s about bringing advancements in technology to our doctors, our business owners, our schools. It’s about enabling communities with opportunities to better their lives. It is about allowing our residents to continue to live and work where they choose.

Last month, I hosted a Rural Broadband Summit to connect Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai with elected officials and members of the technology and cable communities to discuss the future of rural broadband and ways to achieve expansion. Chairman Pai believes that broadband access is essential for Americans and that the government “must enable rural residents to have the same choice for stand-alone broadband typically found in cities.” He understands the digital divide well, having grown up in southeastern rural Kansas. Access to broadband is the primary infrastructure issue of this decade. It is going to need an all of the above approach with fiber, wireline, fixed wireless and satellite needed to solve the access issue. Our goal is to bring broadband to homes and businesses in our area.