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Eliminate the Digital Divide

Oct 21, 2020
Column

More than two million Texas residents didn’t have access to reliable internet before the pandemic, according to the Texas comptroller, while a staggering 18 million Americans nationwide had no access at all, per a 2020 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report. Now in the midst of a once-in-a-generation public health crisis, the need for broadband access to resources and health care delivery has never been more paramount.

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced what we already knew: Texas communities were underserved and in desperate need of high-speed internet access. As the demand for online learning has become the new norm, offices have implemented remote work policies, and medical professionals now conduct a larger amount of appointments via teleservices, continuing to leave educational and professional services in the 20th Century is not an option.

In order to collectively rebound from the pandemic, it is vital that households receive the most up-to-date information and businesses adapt to a changing economic environment driven by curbside services, primarily online operations, and ever changing public health guidelines.

I have long advocated for broadband expansion in the 25th District where 12 of our 13 counties lack access to a reliable connection. Texans in Burnet County recently told me that one of their most pressing needs is greater access to high-speed internet – and they’re not alone. We’ve heard stories across our communities of students not having access to internet when they leave school and are forced to use parking lots with hotspots to do their homework. And in some instances, teachers have had to deliver hand-printed packets so students can receive learning materials.

The urgency of expanding rural broadband comes up in nearly every conversation I have across our district, and I was proud to lead the effort in Congress investing $100 million in the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program. While the program will help build out high speed internet networks across the nation, crucial work remains to fully bridge the digital divide.

That’s why I introduced the Eliminate the Digital Divide Act to expand internet access for all Texans in need. The bill authorizes a $10 billion State Broadband Program that empowers states to direct federal dollars to unserved and low-income areas so they can carry out individual broadband networks and receive low-cost broadband services that best fit their needs. After decades of lacking the same connectivity as their urban counterparts, Texas’ unserved communities will no longer be competing against cities in other states for federal funding that favors low cost deployment over communities with no connection at all.

As the dependence of digital communication increases in almost every aspect of our lives, we cannot leave millions of Texans in the dark without internet access. It is crucial that we pass this legislation to begin closing a chasm that has divided our nation for far too long.