Across the country, far too many rural businesses, schools, and health care providers are struggling to keep pace with people who live in bigger towns and cities because they lack access to high-speed internet, often referred to as broadband. That’s why, as a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’ve been committed to ending the digital divide and ensuring rural communities have the same opportunities to grow, compete, and succeed.
For years, the government has diverted limited resources to expand broadband to cities and towns that already have access and, in some cases, multiple providers. It’s unacceptable that 61 percent of rural Missourians lack access to broadband.
Students depend on the internet to enhance their education and prepare for the jobs of the future. As one parent recently told me, students in her community have a more difficult time doing their homework because they do not have internet access close to where they live. By bringing broadband to rural areas, we’ll take an important step toward ensuring students in rural communities have access to the quality education they need.
In a 21st Century economy, businesses that lack access to high-speed internet are at a competitive disadvantage. Businesses rely on high-speed internet to compete locally and reach customers outside of their marketplace. High-speed internet is also necessary for communities to attract and retain businesses, from banks and factories to distribution centers and small businesses.
Rural broadband is also critical to agriculture, our state’s top economic driver. A revolution has taken place on America’s farms in recent years. More and more farmers are utilizing wireless infrastructure, GPS, data centers, autonomous systems, and fiber optics lines for precision agriculture and high-speed commodity trading. With world food demand expected to double in the next 30 to 40 years, making sure Missouri farmers and ranchers have access to broadband will help them take advantage of the great economic opportunities that lay ahead. Access to broadband can mean a fifteen-minute update instead of a five-hour wait when machinery isn’t working or isn’t working right.
And, this isn’t just about economic opportunity. Rural hospitals and health clinics are able to use telemedicine to bring health care services to patients in distant areas at lower costs and improved quality, particularly in mental health and intensive care. Telehealth enables patients to access resources that would otherwise only be available 100 miles away. Having that capacity saves lives.
Since President Trump nominated Ajit Pai to be Chairman of the Federal Communications Committee (FCC), the agency is taking positive steps to expand broadband access.
I’m pleased that Chairman Pai took action after I urged him to make available $2 billion in funds for rural broadband, and to open this money up to auction so new entrants in this field, like electrical cooperatives, could competitively bid. In addition, the FCC is working to expand mobile wireless service to rural areas and reduce costs for companies upgrading from copper to fiber optic networks.
I look forward to working with Missouri families and communities, my colleagues in the Senate, and the FCC to continue to expand rural access to broadband in our state.