Building America’s 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure: It’s Time We All Got Connected.

by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

The internet is an easy thing to take for granted, when you have it. You’re probably reading this op-ed online, and then you might check your email, read the news, or open a project for school or work. Despite how ubiquitous it seems in some parts of the country, 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas, or approximately 23 million people, lack sufficient access to high-speed broadband. That means a sizeable portion of the U.S., including in our districts in Oregon and Tennessee, is missing out on a transformative and necessary part of today’s economy. All Americans should be able to fully realize the opportunities made possible by broadband internet, like telemedicine, online education, and starting or growing a business. The Energy and Commerce Committee has already begun efforts on this front, and as we continue, we are glad to have an ally in President Trump, who understands the importance of expanding broadband infrastructure across the nation.

Last week, after the president signed two significant executive orders on improving broadband infrastructure, members of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology introduced four resolutions laying out our principles for broadband expansion nationwide. The resolutions include prioritizing infrastructure funding to areas that are currently unserved, easing the regulatory process, ensuring coordination among all levels of government, and establishing clear, consistent rules regardless of broadband technology.

Introducing the resolutions was the first step in the larger legislative process to come. As we move forward, subcommittee members will be introducing a series of bills in the coming week reflecting these principles. The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold hearings in the near future to discuss these issues further.

The bills will be introduced in three buckets: removing barriers to infrastructure buildout, supporting innovation, and strengthening the public safety benefits that come with access to broadband internet.

The first round of legislation will focus on removing the barriers to deploying infrastructure through legislation to simplify permits and requirements, and clean up duplicative agency processes. The reality is, it’s expensive, complicated, and time-consuming for broadband companies to reach the communities that need it. Our job in Congress is to expand access to high-speed broadband by making it easier, not harder, to get broadband connectivity to all Americans.

Next, members of the subcommittee will introduce legislation to establish a defined, consistent framework for all broadband technologies, encouraging innovation, growth, and prosperity in rural America. If we want to boost technology and innovation, we need to make sure government is not picking winners and losers. Broadband internet access will open doors for business owners, students, farmers and many others across rural communities. The work we do will pave the way for innovation and make the internet more connected, resilient, and accessible no matter where you live.

Finally, by advancing funds for high-speed broadband in declared disaster areas, we can improve public safety response rates in affected regions. High-speed internet access ensures law enforcement and first responders have every tool at their disposal, and at the same time allow those suffering in a tragedy to communicate with those responders, not to mention their worried friends and families. Reliable and fast communications service can save lives, and we need to make certain it can be available in affected areas.

Throughout this process, we want to incorporate a range of idea and have conversations with both sides of the aisle. With an issue as important as broadband infrastructure, we also hope to work closely on our shared goals with the other House committees who can help build a bigger legislative package that reflects President Trump’s vision for a new era in American competitiveness. There is an incredible opportunity here to make a difference in Americans’ lives. Expanding broadband infrastructure means children can finish their online homework at home, a patient who lives hours away from his hospital can utilize telemedicine, and a business owner in rural America can grow her company online.

We cannot allow rural America to fall behind. Addressing the critical issue of broadband infrastructure will go a long way toward closing the digital divide and bringing economic growth to communities across the country.