WASHINGTON, DC – House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai teamed up for an op-ed in today’s East Oregonian spotlighting efforts to close the digital divide.
The piece follows Chairman Pai’s recent visit to Chairman Walden’s rural Congressional district to meet with small internet service providers, 911 dispatchers, health care providers and more to discuss obstacles to better internet access.
Since putting forward 25 proposals earlier this year, many of which were either signed into law as part of RAY BAUM’S Act or recently approved during a #SubCommTech markup, the Energy and Commerce Committee has led the way for Congressional efforts to support broadband deployment in rural areas.
Click here to learn more about the committee’s work.
Bridging the rural technology divide
Op-ed by Chairmen Walden and Pai
High-speed broadband access, both wired and wireless, is critical for participating in the 21st century economy. This is as true in Pendleton as it is in Portland. Eastern Oregonians need online access to start businesses, shop online, educate their kids, stay healthier through telemedicine, and make their farms and ranches more productive.
But not all Americans are fully benefiting from the internet revolution, especially in Eastern Oregon. We can’t allow rural communities here and across the country to fall behind due to lack of broadband infrastructure. We call that disparity the digital divide, and we are both committed to closing it.
To better understand how we can improve connectivity throughout Eastern Oregon, we recently visited Hermiston, Pendleton and Weston. We heard from folks who experience the divide every day. Local officials told us how the lack of high-speed broadband access is hurting the economy and even makes some residents less optimistic about the future. Rural health care providers told us how important telemedicine was in rural towns, and demonstrated how they use broadband to connect patients with doctors online, without patients needing to drive long distances to an office or hospital.
Local law enforcement, first responders, and 911 dispatchers told us that next-generation networks, not the legacy infrastructure of today’s public safety system, will help them carry out vital emergency service operations, helping them save lives. Year after year, Oregon experiences catastrophic wildfires, reminding us all too well of the importance of a strong 911 system.
All of these constituencies need better internet access. Getting there requires internet service providers (ISPs) — small ones in particular, since they tend to serve rural communities — to have a stronger business case for creating and improving that access. Several small ISPs told us about the substantial challenges they face in serving their communities, from sparse populations to regulatory burdens.
Closing the digital divide won’t be easy, but the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Federal Communications Commission have made important progress.
Click here to read the full op-ed online.