Opinion

Op-Ed: Senator King on expanding broadband in rural America

High-speed internet is no longer a luxury in today’s digital world — it’s an essential tool that connects people and communities to economic and educational opportunities like never before. And to succeed in the 21st-century economy, Congress needs to invest in the expansion of high-speed internet (otherwise known as broadband) in Maine and throughout rural America.

This week, I was proud to launch the Senate Broadband Caucus with a bipartisan group of my colleagues. This group of senators — which includes Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) — will focus on ways to strengthen broadband infrastructure and deployment across the country in order to help connect our communities to the internet. The caucus will promote discussions on both sides of the aisle in order to increase connectivity, bridge geographic barriers, and help close the digital divide in rural America.

Broadband can be a great equalizer for our rural communities. Internet access opens new doors to information and opportunity, both for our students looking to learn new skills and our businesses looking to grow.

There is no doubt about the economic benefits: for every $5 billion invested in broadband infrastructure, 250,000 jobs are created. And on top of that, a recent study found that higher internet speeds correspond with lower unemployment rates, higher median household income, and an increased rate of people getting their bachelor’s degree.

Despite these benefits, we’re not where we should be in terms of broadband connectivity. According to the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) 2016 Broadband Progress Report, one in 10 Americans lacks access to broadband. The numbers for rural America are even more troubling, with 39 percent of rural Americans lacking access.

The Senate Broadband Caucus will work to improve those numbers and support rural areas. We recognize that high-speed internet is an integral resource and that everyone across the country should have access to it — whether you live in rural Maine or anywhere else. The Caucus also recognizes that Congress doesn’t always have all the answers, and that’s why we will be actively engaging with a broad range of industries and other stakeholders to meet broadband challenges head on.

In Maine, we have no shortage of organizations, businesses and local leaders who are working together to expand broadband in our state. Groups like the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Telecommunications Association of Maine, and the Maine Farm Bureau and businesses like Axiom Technologies, Fairpoint, and GWI all recognize the need to harness our collective expertise and tackle this together.

With the collaborative work of the private sector and all levels of government, we can expand broadband infrastructure and open new doors ‎of opportunity. In doing so, we can set Maine on a path to prosperity.

We have a lot of work to do in order to improve broadband availability and connect all of rural America to this critical resource. My hope is that the Senate Broadband Caucus can be a force for good in that effort. Together, we can make a difference for communities in Maine and across the country.

U.S. Senator Angus King, I-Maine

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