Q: Why is closing the digital divide so important for Rural America?
A: Connecting every home and business to high-speed internet access will open the door of opportunity for rural residents to compete in the digital economy. Rural broadband is a critical piece of the puzzle for communities to foster economic development and productivity; empower students to attain top academic achievement; and, allow workers and families to enjoy a high quality of life with a lower cost of living available in the Midwest. From homework to health care, the disparity of access to high-speed internet puts too many rural Americans at an unfair disadvantage. The digital divide contributes to gaps in education, job creation, wage growth, economic development, civic engagement and public services. The pandemic has exacerbated the divide, especially among school-age children who transitioned to online instruction and didn’t have access to reliable internet connections at home. Those without reliable, high-speed internet service face a disadvantage for remote learning, teleworking and telehealth visits. The digital divide also affects access to legal and social welfare services, such as foster care families and nursing home residents. As families spend more time at home, households have come to depend on high-speed internet access more than ever, from streaming content to online shopping, working from home and keeping in touch with loved ones. Input from Iowa families, civic leaders, educators and business people informs my work at the policymaking tables where lawmakers shape regulatory, tax, and spending policies, including efforts to build out this vital 21st century infrastructure across rural America. No matter your zip code, every Iowan deserves access to high-speed, high-quality internet service to help narrow opportunity and achievement gaps between rural and urban areas. In addition to education, economic development and entertainment, rural broadband connects Iowans to telehealth services, improves farmers’ productivity with precision agriculture and expands sales and marketing opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses to grow internet commerce.
Q: How is the FCC helping narrow the digital divide in Iowa?
A: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) leverages public-private partnerships to deploy rural broadband across America. These efforts are helping to pave the way for universal, high-speed internet access for millions of unserved farms and neighborhoods. The FCC partners with broadband providers, including cable operators, electric cooperatives, satellite and telephone companies and fixed wireless providers, to invest in the infrastructure and technology needed to connect rural communities to high-speed internet services. In December, the Trump administration announced the allocation of $9.2 billion through the Phase I Auction of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. According to the FCC, these competitive bids will expand broadband to more than 5 million rural residents in 49 states in phase one of this program. Last December, I wrote the FCC to ensure it implements limited resources, specifically the universal service fund (USF), with an eye towards ensuring broadband deployment is sustainable and can keep pace with consumer demand into the future as technology evolves. As Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator, I’m glad to see providers competed successfully to build out rural broadband services in Iowa. Specifically, the FCC awarded 11 bidders more than $144 million to connect 53,819 assigned locations in Iowa. As a taxpayer watchdog and advocate for rural America, I’ll continue my oversight work to ensure these dollars are used effectively to help connect Iowa households and businesses to the broadband grid so that rural residents aren’t left behind and have the opportunity to achieve prosperity no matter where in America they choose to live.