Amy Klobuchar: It’s time to bridge the divide with broadband
Guest Column by Amy Klobuchar
The internet is connecting communities and creating opportunities we couldn’t have imagined just a few decades ago. Infrastructure that enables access to high-quality, high-speed, reliable broadband can transform how we do business, provide medical care, educate our children, enhance public safety and deliver government services. It also holds particular promise for rural areas, erasing many of the barriers that have traditionally isolated too many communities.
I’ve heard from people across our state about how access to broadband is changing their lives and making their jobs easier. For example, farmers have told me they are excited about how advances in precision agriculture — like technology that can detect the level of moisture in the soil — can help them save money, increase yields and protect the environment. And tractors can now use wireless broadband to send data directly back to the farm, allowing farmers to better manage their operations.
We have also seen advancements in telehealth technology that can help connect rural communities around the state to health care providers hundreds of miles away. Doctors can monitor the fetal heart rate and the weight and blood pressure of low-risk expectant moms remotely without having them drive to a clinic. Remote monitoring can also link specialists to patients and doctors in rural areas to provide real time consultations from the other side of the state.
These are important developments, but they simply don’t work without high-speed internet coverage. Here it is 2019, and I still hear far too many stories from families, workers and students about how they need better access to broadband. One student actually wrote to his cell phone company about how he had to hold his phone up to a window at his home in Fort Ripley in order to try downloading the information he needed to do his homework.
I’ve always believed that when we invest in our infrastructure, including improved access to broadband, we invest in opportunity for every American. If we do this right, we can bridge the rural and urban divide that’s damaging our country and hurting our economy. That’s why I sponsored legislation to make broadband deployment easier by requiring coordination between states and federal agencies when highway projects are built so that broadband infrastructure is installed at the same time. In other words, agencies only “dig once” and lay the groundwork for broadband when building or expanding roads. A provision based on my bill was signed into law last year. “Dig once” policies help streamline broadband deployment and reduce the costs of building new broadband infrastructure while also helping expand wireless coverage in our rural areas.
As we work to bring high-speed internet to communities across the country, it’s critical that we have a clear and accurate understanding of where broadband is available and where it is not. While the Federal Communication Commission collects this information and provides maps that display broadband availability, these maps significantly overstate coverage in many rural areas. That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation — the Broadband DATA Act — with Sens. Wicker, Thune and Peters, to collect more precise data so that broadband deployment funds will go where they are needed most. This bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee in July, and I am working to quickly get it signed into law.
We need to bridge the digital divide once and for all and connect every Minnesota household to the internet so our citizens can take full advantage of the opportunities that come from being able to quickly reach people and information around the globe. That’s how we strengthen our local economies, help our rural businesses reach more customers and ensure our students can compete in an increasingly connected world.
Kids who grow up in rural America shouldn’t be forced to move away from rural America in order to get a good job and raise their own family. Ensuring that the communities and businesses of rural Minnesota have access to high-speed broadband internet is a vital part of ensuring that this isn’t just a dream, but a reality. And I will continue fighting in Washington to make sure that happens.
Amy Klobuchar is a Democratic U.S. senator from Minnesota.