Republican Leader Glenn 'GT' Thompson Full Committee Hearing: Rural Broadband - Examining Internet Connectivity Needs and OpportunitiesTue, 20 Apr 2021 11:02:07 CDT
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Before jumping into today’s hearing, I would like to take a moment to welcome Congresswoman Julia Letlow of Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District. We are honored to have your perspective moving forward on rural America’s most pressing issues, one of which, of course, is broadband connectivity.
For years, the digital divide has left many Americans unable to access reliable, high-speed internet service resulting in lost opportunities to expand businesses, learn new skills, or even participate in daily activities.
I see this cost and frustration every day. I am fortunate to live in the service territory of a rural electric cooperative which offers quality Internet service to my home. But, just a few miles away, my neighbors are on the wrong side of the digital divide.
I represent 14 counties in rural Pennsylvania, and I can tell you, it is like this all across my district, with digital haves and have nots just down the road from one another; it is a checkerboard of connectivity.
In the height of the pandemic, I heard one too many homeschooling horror stories that were a result of not having reliable access to the Internet. A number of families were driving to the nearest local library, sitting in the parking lot, and connecting to the public Wi-Fi in the hopes of completing assignments.
COVID-19 laid bare the urgency of rural broadband. But, the connectivity struggles in rural communities predate this pandemic and they will not ease as we return to normal. As more of American life is being put online, more of it is being put out of reach of Americans without high speed Internet access, and those without are falling further behind.
Despite years of effort and billions of dollars spent, too many communities are being left behind. That is why today’s hearing is so important.
But broadband is not just needed in our homes; it is desperately needed on our farms as well. The demands of a 21st century farm economy depends on reliable connectivity.
This Committee has done tremendous work on a bipartisan basis to address the digital divide, most recently with the broadband provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill. Those changes reflected two years of work to develop policies and design programs which meet the unique challenges of rural communities.
Unfortunately, those policies and programs are languishing. Changes and improvements championed by the members of this Committee regarding eligible areas, long-term network viability, assistance for our most rural communities, program integrity, and more, remain unfunded and unimplemented more than two years after they were signed into law.
This is unacceptable and it should be unacceptable to every member of this Committee. We simply cannot do that if our best ideas are discarded.
So, Mr. Chairman, today I am going to renew my request to the Appropriations Committee to move past the ReConnect Pilot Program and finally fund the programs which we wrote together in the last Farm Bill. ReConnect has served its purpose and now it’s time to deliver on the policies and programs we promised the American people two long years ago.
I look forward to working with you as we engage our colleagues to tell the story of the 2018 Farm Bill and the improvements we made.
We have a great panel of witnesses today who understand the challenges and complexity of operating rural broadband networks, bringing innovative solutions to life, and most importantly, serving their communities. Welcome, Ms. Prather, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Robinson, and Dr. Park. Each of you has a remarkable story to tell of your work on behalf of rural communities across our country. Thank you for spending your time with us today. I look forward to your testimony.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to close on a personal note. There was a lot of frustration on this side of the dais during the reconciliation markup. But you committed then to making broadband a priority and we are here today making it a priority. Thank you for being true to your word. I look forward to working with you, Chairman Delgado, Ranking Member Fischbach, and all of our members as we strengthen the case for the broadband investments needed in our rural communities.
I yield back.
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