- - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Many of you are probably reading this from a tablet or a phone. Using Wi-Fi or high-speed internet has become a common part of your day. Just imagine how you would feel or how you would function if you didn’t have this access. You would be unable to quickly scroll through the latest news, stream a lecture in real time or even listen to a podcast. How would you react? Do you take for granted that you touch a screen and the world is at your fingertips? Thirty-nine percent of rural Americans do not know that luxury. Not only do they not have high-speed internet, many of them still have dial-up connections. Because of this, in the evening, families are forced to load the kids into the van and head into town just to get to a parking lot with a Wi-Fi signal.

On the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, we’ve made great strides to close the digital divide and increase the expansion of broadband nationwide. The Communications and Technology Subcommittee, which I chair, has been working hard on a large broadband infrastructure package. We included five resolutions that outline our principles for broadband expansion and around two dozen separate pieces of legislation introduced by Democrats and Republicans.

It is essential that we continue to find ways to increase access to broadband. We’re on a mission to lower barriers to deployment that will allow for new technologies to reach more sparsely populated areas in a significantly shorter time frame. To accomplish this, we have taken a technologically neutral approach that will allow for greater flexibility in addressing the unique geographic challenges states face. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re getting your internet via satellite, fiber or fixed wireless so long as you are getting the service that you need.

If we can accomplish this, we can finally have a 21st century internet that fits with our 21st century economy. Removing barriers and streamlining processes will have a direct impact on the quality of Americans’ lives. It will be easier than ever to run your own small business from home, interact with your doctor remotely or enroll in continuing education programs that will help Americans succeed in this diverse and competitive marketplace.

While much of our legislation focuses on improving or expanding existing networks, we have also introduced bills that will help communities rebuild after natural disasters. In the wake of the incredible destruction in communities across our great nation, it’s become increasingly apparent that we need to do whatever we can to give our first responders the tools they need. We’re removing unnecessary barriers that would ordinarily slow down the response after a major disaster or emergency.

When Chairman Greg Walden handed me the gavel last year, I told him that we were going to do big things together. Recently, the House of Representatives passed one of the most significant pieces of telecommunications legislation of my lifetime — RAY BAUM’S Act. This landmark legislation, named after the Committee’s recently passed staff director, includes the first Congressional reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission in nearly 30 years. We’re also finally reimbursing broadcasters for the relocation costs for full power, translator, low-power and radio stations. By honoring our commitment from the incentive auction, we are ensuring consumers are not disenfranchised during this transition, which will set the stage for future auctions. Last, but certainly not least, we also included several important provisions of Sen. John Thune’s MOBILE NOW Act, which will free up more spectrum and help us win the race to 5G. We are very eager for the Senate to act on this bill and send it to the president.

If this year has proven anything, it’s that we’re committed to action. The time for rural Americans to be forced into complacency because there isn’t a “business case” for high-speed internet to be brought out to them is over. I appreciate the support of my fellow committee members on these critical issues and I will remain committed to closing the digital divide for as long as I am in Congress.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, is Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

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