Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Rural broadband must remain a top priority

The entrance to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) building.
The entrance to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) building. AP

I recently hosted a round-table discussion of rural connectivity with U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, in Pasco. At the event, we discussed the challenges many local businesses, farmers, schools and consumers face when connecting to the Internet.

It’s worth pointing out that, while Washington is considered the 14th most connected state in the nation, Benton and Franklin counties remain in the bottom tier of rural counties served, according to broadbandnow.com/Washington. As a rural resident himself, Congressman Newhouse is keen to address the problem, and is working in Congress to bridge this growing digital divide between rural and urban areas.

However, what should be noted is that the Senate recently voted to confirm Ajit Pai for a second term as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a decision that has been lauded by people across the online ecosystem. Chairman Pai is a widely respected public official with a deep commitment to ensuring that all Americans can take advantage of the technology revolution.

He has long advocated for improving rural broadband connectivity, and his work on the issue dates back to his days as a commissioner.

Since he took over the chairman’s office nine months ago, he has doubled down on his goal of advancing access to broadband. He understands that it is equally as important to be able to get online in Benton City as it is in downtown Pasco, Kennewick or Richland, and he is working to ensure that widespread connectivity is the reality.

Importantly, he has put his money where his mouth is with his nationwide tours to talk about this issue, and has shown that he is committed to promoting policies that ensure everyone has access to a broadband connection.

He launched an FCC rule to reduce red tape for Internet service providers looking to make network investments, and he created the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, which has been tasked with making recommendations on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed Internet access.

The fact that broadband access and deployment is a top priority for Pai, and that he is pushing both the private and public sector to make it happen, will help get counties like Benton and Franklin eventually more connected.

Also, he has been willing to challenge both network providers and the government to come together to find common ground to drive Internet access for all.

The Internet has become a critical and necessary part of everyday life, enabling everything from online banking to smart farming. Pai has made it clear that he is committed to ensuring that this lifeline that is so integral to our daily lives can continue to grow unhindered in both an urban and rural setting.

Bottom line: Pai’s confirmation bodes well for rural communities, like many in Benton and Franklin counties. And coming out of our round table with Congressman Newhouse, we are looking forward to working with both of them to make ubiquitous connectivity a reality.

Tom Gurr is the executive director of Pacific Technology Alliance. PacTech is a coalition of technology leaders, rural and urban organizations and trade groups working to promote public policies that foster choice and access to technology for consumers across the Northwest. Learn more at: www.pacifictechnology.org

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