In these troubling times, senators unite to end America's big divide – rural v urban broadband

Committee to focus on stringing together cowtown cable

The US Senate has formally formed its first informal committee to push for better broadband in America's countryside.

The bi-partisan Senate Broadband Caucus will be made up of five senators who represent states with large rural populations and will push for laws that help to expand high-speed internet service into those underserved markets.

The caucus will initially comprise of Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), John Boozman (R-AR), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Each comes from states where large tracts of uninhabited land make the installation of fiber networks financially unappealing to commercial providers.

"From online business startups to digital learning and telemedicine, broadband access is critical to the strength of our economy and our communities," Capito said in announcing the formation of the committee. "Unfortunately, the digital divide between rural and urban America is growing as essential broadband infrastructure falls behind in certain parts of the country."

The caucus members did not address whether their plan would include pushing for municipal broadband networks, a move that many rural communities have demanded but cable industry groups have opposed as it often puts local governments in competition with incumbent providers.

Other possible causes could include the build-out of mobile networks to rural areas, something Senator King has been a proponent for. The Maine Senator, one of three independents in Congress, recently helped pen a letter [PDF] to the FCC on the matter.

"Without the certainty that essential mobile broadband infrastructure will be deployed and maintained, investments in agricultural productivity will be delayed or bypassed altogether, and the potential efficiencies and benefits to rural communities will be lost," the letter reads.

"The expansion of rural broadband should be a top priority of federal and state policymakers, as expanded deployment in rural areas will address important economic, educational, healthcare, and public safety goals." ®


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