Must Read Op-Eds: Reps. Walberg and Allen on Closing the Digital Divide
Access to reliable, high-speed broadband services has become an essential tool to participate in the American economy. In order to ensure all Americans are connected, we need to remove regulatory burdens and cut red tape, which have resulted in unnecessary permitting delays and exorbitant costs to deploying our communications infrastructure.
In several recent op-eds for the Washington Times, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA) outline how House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans are leading on solutions that streamline the permitting process to help deploy broadband faster and more effectively. This will ensure Americans get connected in communities across the country—especially in unserved areas.
FROM REP. WALBERG:
The pandemic is over, but the massive digital divide that it exposed persists. Every week, I hear from constituents who have no option for high-speed internet. Just a few miles down the road, my neighbors do not have a reliable connection. The consequences of this are significant, and these families, farmers, and businesses in rural America are being left behind in the digital age.
Throughout the last three years, nearly $100 billion has been allocated for broadband through several different programs, including $65 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Republicans in Congress know money is not a fix-all. We need to address the remaining obstacles to deploying broadband infrastructure and get all Americans connected.
First, our permitting processes need to be updated and streamlined. Unpredictable timelines for permit approvals and exorbitant fees for applications have made it slower, more expensive, and onerous to deploy broadband infrastructure. To address this, my House Energy and Commerce Committee colleagues and I have reintroduced our comprehensive permitting package. This slate of bills will cut through unnecessary red tape, enforce needed shot clocks on agency reviews, and harmonize application processes and fees.
Hurdles exist at the federal, state, and local level and ongoing disputes between area incumbents and broadband providers further exacerbates the problem. As a part of any broadband infrastructure update, we must improve coordination and cooperation between broadband providers, government agencies, and other stakeholders, such as utilities, transportation, and public safety. Coordination should also come with transparency and accountability, such as publishing data on the status and outcomes of permits.
The digital divide between urban and rural America is unacceptable, and we must do everything in our power to close that gap. As co-chair of the Rural Broadband Caucus, I know this is not just an issue of convenience; it is a matter of economic opportunity, healthcare access, and education. To that end, officials must prioritize funding for areas that are truly unserved. We cannot simply throw money at the problem and hope that it goes away. We need to make sure that the funds are being used in the most effective manner possible, and that means targeting areas that are in the most need.
Keep reading HERE.
FROM REP. ALLEN:
High-speed broadband is a critical part of today’s modern economy, no matter where you live. Whether it’s a patient seeking telehealth services, a student accessing online resources for homework, a farmer who wants to use analytics software to improve their operation, or a small business that simply wants to share its product with the world, Americans are increasingly reliant on internet connectivity for daily activities.
Unfortunately, many Americans still do not have reliable access to the internet, including in my district and my home state of Georgia. To close the digital divide and further America’s leadership in next-generation broadband and wireless networks, we need effective reforms to accelerate the build out of high-speed connections, boost U.S. competitiveness, and ensure our farmers have the 21st century tools necessary to increase production.
As a proud Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I am in a unique position to play a pivotal role in crafting legislation that lifts regulatory barriers and cuts through the bureaucratic red tape that has worsened the digital divide millions of Americans currently face—and we’ve hit the ground running in the 118th Congress.
The Energy and Commerce Committee continues to go through regular order to improve our nation’s broadband access. In April, the House passed H.R. 1339, the Precision Agriculture Satellite Connectivity Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by my friend and colleague, Rep. Bob Latta (OH-05). Agriculture is Georgia’s number one industry, and to meet growing demand, farm families must have access to high-speed internet and innovative technologies on the farm to produce higher yields.
Additionally, the Energy and Commerce Committee is continuing to hold hearings on streamlining permitting to expedite broadband deployment. Among other notable issues, these hearings have shined a light on the shortcomings of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill lacked necessary reforms to address the permitting and processing delays that are hampering broadband deployment in our rural communities. Unfortunately, this is business as usual in Washington—simply throwing more money at a problem without enacting needed program improvements, leading to wasted taxpayer dollars.
Lastly, one of my top priorities in Congress is to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse by ensuring the Federal Broadband Map is accurate so our federal dollars are prioritized for communities that are truly underserved. I consistently hear from local stakeholders that the FCC’s mapping, from which the distribution of federal grant and loan dollars is based, is inadequate and incorrect. The process is improving, including by taking data from States into account. Georgia is the gold standard when it comes to accurate broadband mapping, and Georgia invested many state resources to recognizing exactly where broadband is needed across the state. We should be utilizing proven data to ensure our taxpayer dollars are not wasted when U.S. competitiveness and enterprise are on the line.
Keep reading HERE.
DON'T MISS: The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a legislative hearing on Tuesday where they will discuss reauthorizing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.