Rural America is Ready for an Internet Upgrade

Did you know that rural counties that have access to fast broadband internet connections report higher income and lower unemployment levels?

A 2015 study by researchers at universities in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas found that access to high-speed broadband internet can be a bridge between higher incomes and low unemployment levels. However, 39 percent of America’s rural population, or 23 million people, lack access to internet connections that are fast enough to allow online activity that most in urban areas take for granted.

This type of service is defined as “fast” by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—it allows email, video streaming, web searches, as well as the ability to support more than one mobile device at a time – a type of service that many of us take for granted. The FCC’s new Chairman, Ajit Pai, has indicated the importance of bridging that divide to rural America through investments in digital infrastructure.

We agree with Chairman Pai. Increasing access to high-speed broadband access is critical for moving our country forward and should be a major component of any infrastructure plans moving forward, as internet access directly affects the economic standing of the American heartland. Today,  the Senate subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet is looking at just this issue and how deployment of broadband internet access in rural America can be expanded.

Bridging that divide is critical, as we know that many rural counties have such poor internet that they are unable to even upload photos, and several 911 call centers have reported consistently losing internet access. Counties without internet access are unable to attract new businesses, and are therefore stuck in economic stagnation. It’s a problem that should be addressed.

A similar infrastructure issue was seen in the early 20th century. In 1935, only 10 percent of rural Americans had access to electricity.  President Roosevelt pledged to bring them service, and just two years later more than 90 percent of rural Americans had the promised access. A similar push is needed today, as the biggest obstacle facing widespread internet access is the current state of deterioration that America’s infrastructure has suffered.

Most rural counties still use copper wires in telephone lines to access the internet, which is simply insufficient because the existing wires are incapable of transmitting data at fast enough rates.  Communities are forced to rely on the outdated infrastructure because the cost of installing optical fiber cable – the gold standard for internet access and speed – is too high.  With a national infrastructure plan investing in projects such as broadband internet access, rural communities would no longer need to rely on outdated infrastructure for their internet access.

Internet access is a beneficial resource that should be afforded to all Americans, and should be included in future investments in infrastructure.  Providing this service to rural Americans will benefit local economies, small businesses, and improve the education of our youth. Just like electricity 80 years ago, internet access should be brought to rural America as soon as possible.

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