Rep. Delgado Op-Ed: Delivering Rural Broadband is a Must
Wanted to be sure you had seen this op-Ed from U.S. Representative Antonio Delgado (NY-19) published in the October 2020 issue of Rural Delivery, the newsletter of the New York State Rural Housing Coalition. On the one year anniversary of his Congressional Field Hearing on rural broadband, Rep. Delgado discusses the urgent need for accessible, high-speed internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to see the full op-Ed or read below:
By Rep. Antonio Delgado
Every day, I hear from folks across my district in upstate New York about their inability to access basic broadband. These conversations range from students who are unable to reach the virtual classroom, to seniors in search of tele-medicine services, to small business owners looking for new ways to connect with customers in the digital age.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that affordable high-speed coverage cannot be a luxury for the few. Instead, it must be treated as a basic utility and made available to every American. Just as housing and education are critical to reach the American Dream, so too is reliable broadband access. We need to treat it as such.
These are not new concerns for our community. This time last year, I held a rural broadband field hearing at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, where I invited Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to meet with folks across NY-19 and discuss how their lives have been impacted by a lack of high-speed internet in our area.
During this conversation, Commissioner Starks heard from small business owners, educators, medical professionals, electric co-op owners, and people throughout our region about how the scarcity and cost of rural broadband impacts their businesses and day-to-day life. Even a year ago, before the pandemic, it was clear that the digital divide was holding back our rural communities.
In conjunction with these concerns, I’ve have been laser focused on addressing flawed broadband maps, a key first step when it comes to tackling this issue. For too long, the federal government has relied on “census block mapping” when collecting data to determine where to allocate funding for broadband projects. The approach assumes that if one house in a census block has broadband access, then every house in the entire block can receive service. This does not work however, when attempting to accurately account for rural areas, which lack dense populations. That’s why, when the House considered federal funding legislation last year, I included an amendment that would bar the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from relying solely on census-block data for broadband availability maps.
Building off this amendment, I’ve since introduced a legislative package designed to close the digital divide. The first bill, the Broadband Speed Act, would require internet service providers to annually report data to the FCC showing the actual speeds they are providing to consumers as opposed to what they can potentially provide within 7-10 business days. The bill would also require that new FCC funding awards be built out at speeds of 100 mbps or higher to ensure that they are future-proof. The second bill, the Community Broadband Mapping Act, would allow local governments and concerned citizens to access grant funding to make their own broadband maps to challenge FCC data. This package, along with my amendment, represent important steps for fixing these maps and expanding broadband throughout our area.
Our communities desperately need reliable broadband access to survive this global health crisis, and to ensure economic vitality in the future. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how technology can allow for more flexibility than we thought possible—and this could be a reality for rural communities if we can successfully close the digital divide. We must do everything we can to make sure our region can get online. I’ll keep pushing at the federal level, in concert with my colleagues on the Rural Broadband Task Force, to get my bills included in future legislation to improve mapping and bring internet infrastructure to our rural areas.