Progress on Rural Broadband

For Americans from all parts of the country to participate in modern life, it is vital that they have access to broadband. We increasingly use the Internet for information, entertainment, business, indeed, almost every aspect of our lives.

In the 20th century, rural electrification projects brought power to parts of the country that were unserved or underserved. Federal assistance to cooperatives organized by farmers made a big difference for rural areas, aiding them in modernization and boosting their economies. Broadband today offers similar promise for rural areas, and the Federal Government can lend a helping hand in realizing that promise.

The House of Representatives recognizes the importance of broadband access for all parts of the country. In fact, we have already sent an important measure to the desk of President Trump, who signed it into law.

Called the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act, or RAY BAUM’S Act, it was named after the former staff director of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Ray was a friend of mine, and he loved his work. Even when fighting the cancer that would eventually take his life, he kept up at his efforts, which included expanding telecommunications access.

The legislation named after Ray reauthorizes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), reduces barriers for deploying broadband, and accelerates development of 5G, the next generation for telecommunications.

The Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications, has stayed at work considering and passing broadband legislation. In unanimous, bipartisan votes, the committee recently advanced two bills for the full House to consider.

I am a cosponsor of both. H.R. 3994, the Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand (ACCESS BROADBAND) Act, would streamline the process of applying for federal grants and coordinates federal resources in support of broadband. H.R. 4881, the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, would promote the deployment of broadband in agricultural areas.

As part of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s continued efforts, its Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on July 17 specifically to examine rural broadband. The subcommittee heard from representatives of the telecommunications industry about their deployment of broadband and what federal support would be most helpful.

Witnesses also included a hospital administrator testifying about the importance of broadband for telehealth. Having introduced bills to promote access to stroke telemedicine in particular and seen broader uses of telemedicine in the Ninth District, I appreciate the possibilities telehealth offers. More broadband access won’t just improve lives; it could actually save them.

To learn more about the Energy and Commerce Committee’s work to expand broadband access throughout all regions of the country, you can visit energycommerce.house.gov/broadband.

President Trump and his administration have also taken steps to help rural areas with broadband access, including signing executive orders to promote it at the Farm Bureau convention in February.

Americans already live in the Internet Age; the question is how fully they can participate in it. Broadband can be extremely important in rural areas because it allows access to services that city dwellers can find nearby, such as telemedicine and educational resources. But an FCC report issued in February found that 24 million Americans still lacked access to quality fixed terrestrial broadband at the end of 2016. Bridging the digital divide between rural areas, such as parts of the Ninth District, and urban zones must be a priority for our time.

Quality broadband Internet access expands the horizons of commerce, agriculture, health, and numerous other aspects of modern life, but the digital divide limits too much of the country.

Electrification helped rural areas catch up with the rest of the country in the 20th century, and so can broadband access in our time. My colleagues and I in the House have made progress in achieving this goal, but the work goes on.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.