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COVID-19 further highlights need for rural broadband

Source: Wikimedia Commons

COVID-19 rapidly spread across large metropolitan areas first. Public health officials now report heightened amounts of positive cases in rural communities. Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chairwoman (DPCC) Debbie Stabenow says increasing reports in rural America enhance “particular challenges and risks.”

Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow (MI), Joe Manchin (WV), Jon Tester (MT), Tina Smith (MN), and Chuck Schumer (NY) today outlined those challenges in a new report, titled “Rural America and COVID-19: Small Towns and Rural Communities are at High Risk.” Such challenges included:

  • Higher rates of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes
  • Higher risk of infection for essential workers, farmers, and small businesses
  • Lack of access to reliable broadband and high-speed internet
  • Under-resourced and strained rural health systems
  • Access to healthy food

Senators focused heavily on limited access to rural broadband during a press call. Senator Tina Smith (MN) says work from requirements underscore challenges rural communities face, due to the lack of high-speed internet.

“Twenty-six percent of Americans living in rural areas lack access to reliable broadband and high-speed internet. So think about what that means if you are one of the 300,000 Minnesotans without home internet connectivity,” Smith said. “You’re being told to learn from home, but you can’t connect to your school. You’re being told that you should be using telehealth, but don’t have internet access to connect with your doctor. You’re being asked to work from home or run a small business from home, but can’t do that if you don’t have access to internet.”

Senator Smith adds, “Broadband isn’t a nice thing to have, it’s a necessary thing to have. It’s a fundamental utility of the 21st century.” She then offers suggestions to address this problem quickly and immediately.

“I point folks to the bill my senior Senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar is leading. It’s a bipartisan bill that would help small broadband companies in rural communities add and upgrade internet service for students and low-income families. We can work on that now while we look toward big infrastructure investments that are needed down the road,” Smith said.