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Opinion: COVID-19 highlights disparity in rural, urban broadband

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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, reliable broadband services have been the lifeblood of this nation, allowing doctors to offer routine checkups over the internet, students to continue learning in virtual classrooms and countless businesses from nearly every industry the opportunity to work from home.

Now more than ever, Americans are aware of how vital reliable connectivity is to our everyday lives, and the digital divide that persists between urban and rural communities has become more apparent than ever before. Republicans have reached across the aisle to pass legislation to address this divide, but there is still more work to be done.

As a member of the energy and commerce subcommittee on telecommunications, I have worked closely with my colleagues to secure our position as a global leader in broadband and to reduce the disparity in reliable and high-speed connectivity between our rural and urban communities. Your ZIP code should not dictate your ability to have fast and reliable internet, but it’s the reality for far too many Missourians and Americans across the country. In order to improve connectivity in rural areas, we must improve our ability to collect accurate and granular broadband coverage data.

I recognize the importance of addressing outdated and inaccurate broadband data maps, which is why I cosponsored the Broadband DATA Act and the MAPS Act. They’re designed to improve the accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband data maps by changing the way broadband data is collected and hold broadband providers accountable for knowingly providing inaccurate data to the FCC.

The FCC currently spends about $8 billion a year to support the universal service of advanced telecommunications services, most of which is dedicated to broadband development in unserved communities. Now that the Broadband DATA Act has become law, my colleagues and I have penned a letter urging the House Appropriations Committee to provide funding for the act which will improve these efforts and allow the FCC to efficiently implement these changes.

The FCC has been working on their 5G upgrade for quite some time, but the vital role wireless infrastructure has played during this pandemic has created an urgent need to expedite 5G rollouts across local communities. Last week, I joined my Republican colleagues in urging FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to pass the FCC’s 5G upgrade order, which would provide clarity to American wireless providers so they can rapidly deploy 5G infrastructure. Chairman Pai answered our call and last week passed this vital upgrade order, clearing the way for greater connectivity and innovation.

These measures will give us the ability to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities across the country and allow the United States to remain competitive on a global scale. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that every community has access to reliable and high-speed broadband services and support legislation that eliminates roadblocks and updates obsolete regulations.

The coronavirus reaffirmed the importance of having reliable and high-speed connectivity, and I am dedicated to facilitating the changes necessary to make that happen.

U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Missouri, can be reached at 202-909-3744. His Twitter handle is @USRepLong.

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