Another school year, another year of students in rural areas struggling to keep up with their studies because they don’t have convenient access to high-speed internet service.
Another year of businesses in rural areas being unable to fully take advantage of modern technology to promote and sell their products and services online.
Another year in which the lifestyle choice of where one lives, where one raises a family and where one locates a business puts millions of people at an economic and educational disadvantage.
We’re 17 years into the 21st century, and people still have to sit in cars outside McDonald’s and libraries to find a hot-spot to access the internet. “Dial-up,” which has become synonymous for “ancient” and “out of date,” is, unbelievably, still the way many people in this country access their internet service.
High-speed internet is no longer a luxury for most people. It’s a necessity. And the lack of it is not only hurting the individuals who don’t have it, but also the economies of the areas where coverage is lacking or sporadic.
About 55 million Americans lack access to advanced broadband speeds, and some lack access to any internet service at all. In a country this advanced and this connected, it’s absurd that this situation has been allowed to continue this long.
It’s time Congress finally took this seriously and enacted legislation that will bring high-speed internet access to rural areas in New York and across the country.
For the fifth year in a row, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has cosponsored legislation to do just that.
Last year, a companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. It was cosponsored by local Rep. Elise Stefanik, whose congressional district includes a good chunk of the Adirondacks.
The bill’s name is a mouthful, the “Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act” (B-CROP). But the premise is simple: Make it easier and less expensive for companies to provide the service in rural areas by offering incentives and grants.
Among the proposals included in last year’s bill were allowing federal grants of up to 50 percent of a project’s cost and up to 75 percent for remote high-need areas, to complement funding already available through the United States Department of Agriculture.
Another provision would allow grants to be combined with loans. Yet another would give the highest priority to projects serving rural and tribal areas.
Another $50 million per fiscal year would be added to the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service to help support the loans and grants under the last version of the bill.
But this vital legislation is only part of the effort to expand broadband access to all parts of the country.
Earlier this year, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin introduced legislation called the “Rural Broadband
Deployment Streamlining Act,” which also would help expand broadband access.
This bill calls for streamlining the application process required to construct broadband on federal lands. It also would ensure the accuracy of the existing broadband coverage maps to make sure federal agencies aren’t unduly delaying the expansion of coverage in rural areas, the bill’s sponsor said.
Yet another bill, the Gigabit Opportunity Act (GO Act), sponsored by West Virginia Sen. Shelley
Moore Capito, would provide tax breaks and streamline regulatory barriers to encourage tech companies to install broadband in poor communities designated as gigabit opportunity zones. Capito is also a cosponsor of Gillibrand’s broadband access bill.
All of this legislation, either separately or in combination with one another, has an opportunity to provide the incentive and the means for companies to invest in areas where they might not otherwise be willing to or afford to.
There’s no reason for Congress to delay the expansion of high speed broadband service to rural areas any longer.
It’s good for the economy. It’s good for individual businesses. It’s good for families.
And it’s good for that little kid who’s just trying to get an education.