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Latta: Closing the digital divide is critical for the vitality of rural America

“It’s time to truly close the gap on America’s ‘digital divide’ because leaving Americans behind as we sprint towards a more connected tomorrow isn’t an option.”

Washington, January 31, 2020 | Rebecca Card (202.225.6405)
Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH5), the Republican Leader of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, penned an op-ed in The Hill shining a spotlight on the need to ensure rural areas have access to reliable, high-speed Internet.

Closing the digital divide is critical for the vitality of rural America

By: Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH5)

January 30, 2020

Smart phones, connected devices, online marketplaces, and social media have changed the way we interact with each other, buy goods and get around. As we look back on the first 20 years of this century, it’s incredible to think of the innovation and rapid acceleration of technology.

But while technology has made us more connected, it has also placed those who don’t have access to connectivity at a significant disadvantage as our world becomes more reliant on digital commerce and communication. The “digital divide,” means communities, businesses, schools and families in areas without reliable, high-speed Internet are unable to keep pace in the modern economy.

We can no longer wait to close this divide. In my role as the Republican leader on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, addressing the “digital divide” has been one of my top priorities.

In order to address areas that have unreliable broadband, we need to accurately know where those locations are. The current maps used to allocate resources are woefully inaccurate and result in overbuilding in some areas while other areas remain unserved or underserved. I’ve helped lead legislative efforts with my colleagues to improve these maps so we can better ensure that building our broadband infrastructure is done in the most effective way.

We have seen the significant impacts technology has already made to better our communities. Technological advancement has spurred job creation, higher wages and increased economic activity in our rural areas. Last year, I visited New Vision Farms in Napoleon, Ohio, where they are using cutting-edge precision agriculture technology. Precision Agriculture is the use of connected devices – such as satellite imagery and the Internet of Things – to help farm in a more efficient, safer, and sustainable way.

Last Congress, I authored the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, which was signed into law by President Trump as part of the Farm Bill. This law created a task force bringing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) together to help farmers access high-speed broadband and precision agriculture technology. I’m happy to report that a representative from New Vision Farms will serve on this task force.

While our farming community is one example of how important access to broadband is, it’s far from the only one.

Even hospitals have evolved and can harness the capabilities of connectivity to save lives remotely. I’ve visited hospitals in my district that are using telehealth to serve stroke victims who need immediate attention but live in remote areas. Quickly utilizing this technology can be the difference between life and death. Just two weeks ago, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and I saw first-hand the life-saving ability of this technology.

There has been a lot of ink spilled on the need to bridge the gap between urban and rural America, especially between those who have reliable internet connectivity and those who don’t. It’s time to truly close the gap on America’s “digital divide” because leaving Americans behind as we sprint towards a more connected tomorrow isn’t an option.

Click here to read the op-ed online.

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