Udall Calls To Prioritize Broadband Access For Rural New Mexicans: Pushes Commerce, Agriculture Secretaries To Act

Senator Tom Udall talking about broadband initiative. Courtesy photo

Udall Calls To Prioritize Broadband Access For Rural New Mexicans: Pushes Commerce, Agriculture Secretaries To Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM joined a bipartisan coalition, led by Sens. Steve Daines, R-MT, Joe Manchin, D-WV and Angus King, I-ME, in an effort to ensure the federal government prioritizes high-speed broadband access for rural Americans. 

Broadband Internet is critical to expand economic development opportunities, distance learning and telehealth to rural communities in New Mexico and across the country. 

In a bipartisan letter signed by more than a dozen senators, Udall and others pressed Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, co-chairs of the Broadband Opportunity Council, for a detailed analysis of the various federal broadband initiatives that can be coordinated across agencies to bridge the digital divide and bring rural America into the 21st century.

“In many places in America, the forces of the free market economy are driving investment in broadband infrastructure and delivering quality networks at competitive prices, but broadband deployment and adoption in rural communities continues to fall behind,” the senators wrote. “Whereas, fewer than one-in-ten citizens lack access to high speed broadband service in urban areas, it is the sad reality for a majority of rural Americans―33 million people―whose innovative ideas cannot compete on a level playing field in a global economy.”

The senators continued, “We believe public-private partnerships can play an important role in solving the growing digital divide between urban centers and rural communities, which continues to stifle American ingenuity and sideline our entrepreneurs that cannot connect to high speed broadband services.”

In addition to Udall, the letter was signed by: Senators Steve Daines, R-MT, Joe Manchin; D-WV, Angus King; I-ME, Mark Warner; D-VA, Ron Wyden; D-OR, Maria Cantwell, D-WA; Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND; Cory Gardner, R-CO; Dan Sullivan, R-AK; Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV; Patty Murray, D-WA and Jon Tester, D-MT.

America’s rural communities face a severe disparity with their urban counterparts for access to high-speed broadband. The lack of access is also clearly seen in tribal communities, where 85 percent of rural tribal lands lack access to broadband, compared to 53 percent of non-tribal rural areas.

The letter is available HERE and below: 

Dear Secretary Pritzker and Secretary Vilsack:

“In many places in America, the forces of the free market economy are driving investment in broadband infrastructure and delivering quality networks at competitive prices, but broadband deployment and adoption in rural communities continues to fall behind. Whereas fewer than one-in-ten citizens lack access to high speed broadband service in urban areas, it is the sad reality for a majority of rural Americans―33 million people―whose innovative ideas cannot compete on a level playing field in a global economy.

As Co-Chairs of the Broadband Opportunity Council (Council), you have a unique opportunity to take a holistic view of our successes and failures at incentivizing broadband deployment and adoption in high-cost, hard to serve areas.

The twenty-five different government agencies and entities represented on the Council have tried a variety of approaches to address this complex challenge, and we urge you to carefully review and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the various Federal initiatives administered by each member agency. We also ask that you coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on this endeavor to learn from their extensive experience. 

A thorough understanding of what we know already works―and what important questions remain―will help to inform the debate about what more we can do to truly bring rural America into the 21st century. We request a detailed analysis of these initiatives and a list of best practices be included in your report to the President due no later than August 20, 2015.

We believe public-private partnerships can play an important role in solving the growing digital divide between urban centers and rural communities, which continues to stifle American ingenuity and sideline our entrepreneurs that cannot connect to high speed broadband services. Public-private partnerships have the ability to balance market-driven solutions with limited public funds to expand rather than duplicate existing broadband infrastructure. We look forward to working with you to promote broadband deployment and adoption throughout this country and welcome your guidance on the lessons learned from our previous efforts to solve this problem.”

 

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