FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is headed to a broadband summit and town hall event for residents of Ohio and West Virginia next month to hear more about the challenges of rural connectivity.
Clyburn will attend the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit on July 18 as part of her nationwide Connecting Communities listening tour. During the event is slated to hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. about the communities’ challenges in accessing broadband.
And she can expect to get an earful. The event’s website describes the state of internet and cell phone service in Appalachian Ohio and West Virginia as “slow,” “spotty,” or altogether nonexistent. The site notes that public safety officials also experience difficulty when trying to use radio and cell phones during incident response, and claims the lack of connectivity is impacting home values in the area.
“In the rural communities of southeast Ohio and northern West Virginia, nearly one-fourth of the population – 14.5 million people – lacks access to high-speed internet service … This is unacceptable in an era when broadband plays a key role in our jobs, education, health care, and social connections,” the event overview reads. “The Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit is bringing together key players from across the country to brainstorm strategies for bringing broadband access to our rural communities.”
Clyburn’s Connecting Communities tour began last year, but now comes in the context of a push from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to focus on closing the “digital divide” in broadband access.
Speaking at a “Broadband for All” seminar in Sweden this week, Pai confirmed that rural citizens have less access to broadband than their urban counterparts – only 72 percent can get high-speed fixed broadband, compared to 98 percent of their urban counterparts.
“Each percentage point on the wrong side of what we call the ‘digital divide’ represents hundreds of thousands of personal stories—stories of those left behind in struggling small towns or hurting low-income urban neighborhoods as their neighbors move elsewhere seeking digital opportunity,” Pai said. “Stories of rural hospitals diverting critical patients to hospitals much farther away, because they don’t have the connectivity to transmit CT scans to specialists. Stories of people who can’t get a job because they can’t access online job applications. Stories in which being connected and not being connected can be the difference between life and death.”
President Donald Trump recently promised to deliver funding to expand rural broadband internet access as part of a broader infrastructure plan he’s working on. Pai said the FCC stands ready to help facilitate these investments, but noted the Commission isn’t sitting back on its heels in the meantime. He noted the FCC recently moved ahead with an order implementing Phase II of both the Mobility and Connect America Funds and has been working to roll back regulations that inhibit deployments.
Work is also being done through other government entities. The USDA earlier this month announced the award of four loans totaling $43.6 million to help provide broadband service in rural portions of California, Illinois, Iowa, and Texas. That came on top of a $15.3 million loan it handed out in March to boost broadband access in Oklahoma.
The Senate is also taking at crack at the problem via the Gigabit Opportunity Act, which was introduced in May with the goal of expanding high-speed internet in low-income and rural communities. More on that here.
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