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Closing the Digital Divide in Rural Texas

Jul 24, 2020
Column

This unprecedented health crisis has underscored the crucial role high-speed internet plays in our society as citizens depend on it for quality health care, remote work capabilities and continuing education during a forced government shutdown. The uptick in activity and heavier reliance on an internet connection since March has been noticeable across all sectors of our economy and in nearly every home. And none more so than in our rural communities.

All of our counties in the 25th District, and thousands of others throughout our nation, face challenges every day due to the lack of connectivity and broadband access. It’s vitally important during COVID-19 that we give these areas relief so they receive accurate and timely information providing clear communication and potentially saving lives.

That’s why I’m leading the effort urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to include funding specifically dedicated to expanding high-speed broadband deployment to underserved communities. Not only does the lack of quality internet limit a household’s ability to access health resources and information, it presents great difficulty for businesses trying to adapt and navigate our current situation by offering limited in-person services. It also greatly inhibits health care providers from giving their patients the highest quality of care possible.

In the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, I was proud to help pass $100 million for the ReConnect Pilot Program that awards grants to cover the costs of construction and improvement of broadband service in eligible rural areas. These funds are specifically intended to secure rural access to telecommunication equipment for students, teachers, medical professionals and patients. Additional funding in the next round of legislation will ensure we are able to get the most up-to-date information on the pandemic to the public, and that businesses are aware of the most recent state and federal guidelines to reopen safely.

I’m proud of the work we have accomplished over the last few months, but we must continue closing the digital divide so rural counties, like those in our district, are given the same access and opportunities as their urban counterparts.