Friday, March 18, 2016
Billy Long: I will fight for access to high speed internet service
On Saturday March 12th, I was on a panel with internet and technology experts at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, where we spoke on the lack of access to high-speed broadband internet service in rural America. Representing Missouri’s Seventh Congressional District, I’m very familiar with the stifling broadband gap between rural and urban areas; areas where we must act to deliver – at a minimum – web access that most consider commonplace in the 21st Century.
According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2016 Broadband Progress Report, 39 percent of rural Americans (23 million people) even lack the option to contact a provider to purchase broadband with access rates consistent with the commission’s “benchmark” speed (25 MBPS for downloads/3 MBPS for uploads). This is merely a rate which allows for use of high-quality voice recognition, data, next-gen graphics, and timely streaming videos.
However, this issue is much more troubling than videos loading sluggishly on YouTube or iPhone applications that can’t function with spotty internet. Rural communities lacking broadband will be increasingly crippled economically if we don’t expand networks. Ever since its inception, the internet has become increasingly necessary for economic, academic, and social exchanges. Not having access means being barred from opportunities and communication, many of which are driven by job-seekers and employers’ hiring needs.
Most troubling, though, is that rural schools, libraries, research centers, small businesses, and colleges are also being left behind. In 2016, it is unthinkable that students would set off to a school that can’t offer online education. High-speed services also provide the required capacity for new-age health care services – diabetic glucose monitoring and other telehealth applications – that would expand healthcare quality disparity between rural and urban patients if broadband demands aren’t met.
The aforementioned FCC report shows that more than 1.2 million Missourians – about one-fifth of our state’s population – lack high-speed internet access, of which more than a million of live rurally. Many of the folks in my district, and across Missouri, are farmers and ranchers who could benefit from internet speeds that would support newer mobile technologies. As the core of Missouri’s cattle production – the 3rd largest agricultural industry in our state – ranchers could keep track of their livestock with mobile tracking technologies.
I don’t want to see rural populations in the Ozarks, Missouri, or across America fall behind 21stcentury demands, and though we need to greatly ramp up America’s rural broadband connectivity pace, we are gaining much-needed momentum.
In August of 2015, the FCC announced deals with 10 Internet service providers to spend $1.5 billion each year, over the course of six years, to improve rural service in 45 states and one U.S. territory – reaching some 3.6 million households that currently lack broadband. With my vote this March, Congress also passed the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, which ensures that small business broadband providers can devote resources to deployment instead of cumbersome regulatory requirements. With more time and capital to invest in rural broadband connections, this is a commonsense win-win for rural Americans lacking broadband access.
I will continue fighting to ensure rural Americans benefit from the best available technologies with scalability for the long term. We must ensure that rural areas have broadband services that reasonably compare to urban access, promote investments in future-ready long-term networks, and enable broadband providers to fairly compete with each other to provide the best networks and services to the most underserved locations.