Reps. John Joyce and Abby Finkenauer: Rural broadband key to 21st-century success | TribLIVE.com
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Reps. John Joyce and Abby Finkenauer: Rural broadband key to 21st-century success

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When was the last time that you unfolded a map for directions before a road trip or required a postage stamp to send a photograph to a friend?

More likely than not, you have turned to a phone, tablet or other device to complete these simple tasks. In the 21st century, the internet has become an integral part of Americans’ lives. Unfortunately, too many communities across the country lack access to this critical resource.

In Pennsylvania, more than 800,000 people live without reliable access to broadband, and those of us in rural areas have substantially slower connectivity speeds than those in urban areas.

We’re not alone. While nearly all of urban America has access to both fixed and mobile broadband, only two-thirds of rural citizens have that same access. This disparity, which affects more than 24 million Americans, is unacceptable. Congress simply cannot allow rural communities to be left behind.

From our homes and schools to big industrial hubs, rural small businesses, and the smallest dairy or corn farms, reliable access to technology is synonymous with success.

As members of Congress who represent large districts in primarily rural states, we are committed to ensuring that our constituents and Americans across the country have the opportunity to thrive in our modern age.

Our goal is a bipartisan priority. On the House Small Business Committee, we work together to help propel policy that strengthens small businesses — in turn spurring local economies and bolstering our communities. Small businesses of all industries require access to both reliable and affordable broadband to compete in local, national, and international markets alike.

As the leaders of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade and Entrepreneurship, last month we hosted a bipartisan field hearing in Gettysburg to learn from those who understand this need firsthand. We heard from witnesses representing small businesses, local farms and schools about the challenges they experience in accessing reliable broadband.

This issue can hinder the development of our future workforce. It was heartbreaking to hear from New Oxford Middle School teacher Anthony Angelini that some Pennsylvania students — often those who could use extra help — are falling behind in their classes as school resources turn increasingly digital. When teachers post worksheets or assignments online, students who live in areas without reliable internet often miss out on learning opportunities or are relegated to traveling to a public library or even a fast-food restaurant to gain access. The internet should be reducing barriers to success, but the dearth of broadband access in rural areas creates additional obstacles for students and parents to overcome.

It’s time to narrow the gap in broadband access, and we know that solving this problem will require a team effort. Over the past several years, Congress has enacted several bipartisan efforts to increase the availability of resources for these communities, but many programs remain underutilized.

Our society has come a long way since the days of dial-up and desktops. Over the past decades, we have learned that the world is not going to become less reliant on technology. As it continues to progress, our communities — in all parts of the country — must continue moving forward. Together, we are working to help Congress meet this challenge.

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