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Closing the Digital Divide

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Washington, August 3, 2018 | Pete Larkin (540-857-2672) | comments
The House Farm Bill updates the Rural Broadband Access Loans and Loan Guarantees Program, which provides for the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in rural areas.
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Sharing photos, streaming music, reading the news, building businesses – high-speed internet has changed the way we work, socialize, and share information around the world. While we have seen its extraordinary impact, we are still at the beginning of its transformational ride. For many families in more urban parts of our country, access to reliable, fast internet service may seem like a nearly universal thing. But in rural communities, like some in the Sixth District, it's not a given. The internet has the power to change our world, and we must ensure that parts of the country are not left behind.

In rural communities, internet providers continue to encounter challenges when it comes to deploying broadband, which is often more than 50 times faster than the old modems used for internet access. This is limiting their ability to provide these communities with access to affordable and reliable service, creating a digital divide between those with broadband access and those without. It is vital that our small businesses, health care providers, students, and farmers have access to the tools they need to serve their communities and succeed.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate passed, and President Trump signed into law, a $625 million investment in rural broadband. This funding expedites and expands rural broadband projects within the Department of Agriculture as part of a larger commitment to improving America’s infrastructure. Additionally, as a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I have been working with my colleagues on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, which you might know as the Farm Bill. The House Farm Bill updates the Rural Broadband Access Loans and Loan Guarantees Program, which provides for the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in rural areas. The bill requires applicants to the program to look beyond today’s standards and plan for the future, ensuring that broadband speeds will be upgraded to meet the current standards.

Improving connectivity in rural areas would open the gates to greater technology that will benefit small businesses, including one of our nation’s oldest and most vital industries – agriculture. The House recently passed the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act with my support. The bill improves connectivity to rural areas to reduce barriers to implement precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is the use of cutting-edge innovation like self-driving machinery, drones, and satellite imagery. The use of this technology has the potential to revolutionize the industry, making it safer, more sustainable, and more efficient.

Deploying broadband technology to rural communities would be a significant economic generator. Congress has the opportunity right now to increase internet access for areas that have long been underserved and overlooked. I will continue to advocate on behalf of rural America to see these policies cross the finish line. It’s time to close the gap on the digital divide.
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