Connecting Us as One Country Through High-Speed Internet
Reliable internet service has become a necessity for creating rural jobs, attracting Main Street businesses, and accessing markets, education, and health care in the 21st century. However, a vast number of rural Americans remain digitally underserved, contributing to stark inequality between rural and urban regions and disproportionate economic distress in non-metro communities:
- Of the 9.5 million people who do not have access to broadband, most are rural residents – leading to the digital divide between urban and rural populations.
- Rural residents are almost twice as likely as urban ones to lack high-speed internet at home, at 19.69 percent compared with 10.23 percent.
- Only 65 percent of rural tribal populations have access to high-speed internet, and 32 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives are unable to obtain a computer with a broadband subscription.
- Without broadband service, farmers are unable to tap into key markets or use new agricultural techniques that increasingly rely on internet analysis and technology to optimize efficiency and yield.
- The Covid-19 pandemic shed light on the impacts of the digital divide and underscored the necessity of reliable internet connectivity to access jobs, education, and health care in the modern economy.
WHY RURAL BROADBAND IS IMPORTANT
- The already present digital divide was catalyzed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and now more than ever, rural Americans are grappling with the devastating consequences the lack of broadband access creates. Investing in broadband expansion can bring massive economic opportunities and increase quality of life for thousands of rural residents by:
- Introducing new online markets and other economic opportunities for farmers and rural small businesses.
- Increasing access to telehealth for patients who live far from health care facilities.
- Expanding opportunities for online learning and higher education, allowing students to receive high-quality education from their home.
- Opening new high-income industries like graphic design, web development, and tech to rural communities.
- Providing opportunity for rural residents to participate in remote work, which has increasingly gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Providing the opportunity to utilize new, innovative farming technology for more efficiently growing increased yields.
RECENT INVESTMENTS IN RURAL BROADBAND
- Through the American Rescue Plan, state, local, and Tribal governments in over 40 states have already committed over $8 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to provide critical support for broadband infrastructure.
- Through the USDA’s ReConnect program, $1.6 billion has been put towards investments in rural broadband.
- The FCC, through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, launched the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program. The EBB Program is providing broadband affordability relief to households across the country, providing between $50-$75 per month discounts on broadband services as well as a one-time $100 discount in purchasing devices.
HOW TO EXPAND RURAL BROADBAND ACCESS AND INVESTMENTS
- Expanding rural broadband access requires significant investment from federal and state governments and private partners, to make sure funds are allocated where they need to be:
- Building capacity to educate local communities and execute successful high-speed broadband infrastructure projects for communities without any existing access.
- Supporting state and local governments with innovative, individualized strategies for implementation, and providing local governments without existing service the resources to manage and execute their own projects to ensure community wide broadband.
- Ensuring local governments can combine traditional infrastructure and broadband expansion projects, such as burying fiber in the ground as road construction projects take place.