In rural communities throughout Minnesota, roughly 16 percent of households lack access to high speed internet. That means 144,000 households are missing out on the benefits that come with broadband. And that’s simply unacceptable. I’ve heard from school superintendents across our state who are partnering with small broadband providers directly in order to help their students without internet access. These are innovative partnerships that will help our kids during this difficult time.
As Virginians have been adapting to a new way of life during the coronavirus outbreak, high-speed internet access has become a necessity, now more than ever. The coronavirus emergency has only exacerbated the burden of internet insecurity and the consequences of inadequate access for rural Americans. That is why, in April, I wrote a letter to House and Senate leadership advocating for the inclusion of rural connectivity capabilities in future coronavirus stimulus packages, including key legislation that I have put forward in Congress. In March, I introduced the Serving Rural America Act.
Over two years ago when I began my fellowship with Benton, I recognized how our cities are changing at an incredible pace. The technology being deployed on our sidewalks and streetlights has the potential to improve mobility, sustainability, connectivity, and city services. Of course, technology can be divisive as well as progressive. Does the potential of the 21st Century data-collecting, responsive, hyperconnected city benefit us all equally? Is it built with resident understanding, feedback, and consent?
No form of modern technology can replace what’s needed to bridge divides that have deepened during decades of disruption in which few have prospered and many have languished. What’s needed is a voluntary, but expected, national service program that allows people to walk a mile in another American’s shoes. This program — let’s call it the American Service Corps — would send eighteen-year-olds to another corner of the country for a year to live in a new community, complete service projects and interact with folks of varied backgrounds and beliefs.
As though Americans don’t have enough to worry about right now, some people have recently been stoking fears about the supposedly harmful health effects of 5G — the new generation of wireless broadband networks. For decades, the Federal Communications Commission has ensured that equipment that transmits information over radio waves — from station antennas to cell towers to mobile phones to laptops — is safe for consumer use. The FCC most recently reviewed and reaffirmed those standards, which are among the most stringent in the world, in an order issued late in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made something clear that the members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have known for a long time: millions of families in the United States do not have access to affordable, reliable broadband internet connections. Technicians can’t install high-speed internet service for households without fiber optic cable in their neighborhoods. Teachers can’t keep children who cannot access online materials engaged and learning.
Billions of people don’t have the option to turn to the web in times of need or normality. A gross digital divide holds back almost half the planet when it most needs the web. This divide is most acutely experienced in developing countries.
Whether it be for business meetings, family video chats, virtual doctor appointments or distance learning, more Americans are relying on broadband and wireless networks to stay connected than ever before, as the nation deals with the COVID-19 crisis. As we look into the future, it is evident that investing in building these strong communication networks, in particular next-generation wireless networks or 5G, will be as crucial than ever to American success.
Efforts to connect the unconnected have fallen way short. Many billions of dollars have been thrown at this, through multiple initiatives, programs and subsidies.
Emerging from this crisis, we call on the federal government to act on three priorities that will get America back on its feet. With investments in broadband access, support for the creation of domestic supply chains and requirements for Congress to meet its constitutional budgetary obligations, we believe that the United States can once again find transformation in a time of crisis. First, we believe that it is time for the United States to close the digital divide and bring high-speed internet to every family, regardless of their ZIP code.