Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Sam Graves (6th District of Missouri)
Americans are facing unprecedented challenges in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions have lost their jobs, countless small businesses have shut down—some permanently, and virtually every school in the country has closed its doors. As Americans have stayed home over the last month, internet access at home is now more critical than ever.
Students across North Missouri are finishing this school year at home, whether through take-home lessons—or more frequently, through online education. College students in particular are expected to finish this year’s classes online, a format many universities already use for some classes. Unfortunately, it’s still next to impossible to implement for many of our schools and teachers. Thousands of students across North Missouri simply don’t have access to reliable high-speed broadband internet.
Likewise, businesses have started teleworking during the pandemic. While this is possible for many in more urban areas, a frozen video screen during a meeting is far too common in rural areas with slow internet. Obviously, it’s not even a possibility for those who don’t have it.
In a time where telemedicine has been heavily put to use, doctors have to be able to connect to their patients and vice versa. It’s an incredibly useful technology when folks have had to stay home or are far from their local healthcare facility. It’s useless though without broadband access.
For years, I’ve been working to expand broadband internet access in rural Missouri, through both grants and loan programs. This fight is every bit as important as rural electrification was for our communities in the 1930s. With the current pandemic, expanding our broadband infrastructure is more important than ever. We cannot stand by while our communities, our businesses, and our students get left behind.
That’s why I introduced the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (E-BRIDGE) Act, to eliminate longstanding barriers that have stood in the way of communities taking on projects that would deliver high-speed broadband internet service. Many times, the infrastructure is in place close by, but it’s cost-prohibitive to get the internet to the home which keeps folks from being able to actually use it. By unlocking Economic Development Act grant funding to help get these ‘last mile’ projects done, we can connect millions of Americans.
If it wasn’t clear before, this pandemic has ensured that it is now—reliable, high-speed broadband internet is critical infrastructure for our country. We’re counting on it for telemedicine to distance learning, and everything in-between. We have to expand our broadband infrastructure to level the playing field for rural America, enabling it to survive, and even thrive, for years to come.