Earlier this week, Bernadine Joselyn was asked to speak to the Democratic Senate Outreach Committee on broadband as infrastructure need in rural America. Excited to have them discussing the issue – great to have Bernadine be part of the dialogue.
Here’s more on the meeting…
SENATE DEMOCRATS HOST A ROUNDTABLE ON RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Washington, DC – Senate Democrats hosted a roundtable discussion on building a sustainable middle-class economy in rural America – emphasizing infrastructure needs like transportation, water and wastewater, and broadband Internet and looking for entrepreneurial opportunities in the energy economy and regional food systems.
“By fostering public-private partnerships that increase the flow of capital to rural America, we are helping to create economic opportunities that otherwise would not exist. We must invest in the future of rural America by building its transportation and communications infrastructure — connecting urban and rural communities with regional economic hubs and improving the quality of life for families through increased access to well-paying jobs and affordable health care, education, and housing,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee.
Remarks to Democratic Senate Outreach Committee
September 30, 2015
Blandin Foundation’s goal is the same as yours – to promote vibrant, prosperous rural communities.
That’s why our foundation dedicates a significant part of our resources to helping communities get and use broadband.
We make this investment because we understand that everything else we care about depends on world class broadband –
- equal opportunity, education, health care, accountable and effective government, business growth, engaged citizens and vibrant communities.
“Rural people can disagree about a lot, but if you want consensus in a room full of rural advocates, ask about broadband. That’s our experience, anyway.”
~ Tim Maremo, Editor, The Daily Yonder
Blue or Red or Purple, Urban or Rural, everyone loves and needs broadband the same.
But rural people and people living on tribal lands have lots less of it. Figuring out how to fund broadband is still a major challenge for many communities.
- Just think: while 92% of urban households can get broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload), only 47% of rural households and 37% of people living on Tribal Lands can get that same level of access.
This is America’s ‘Tale of Two Cities’ – and rural places are being left behind.
I’ve got a sachel full of stories that illustrate the difference that broadband – or its absence – makes in the lives of rural people:
- A mom crying when she gets her first subsidized internet hook up because now she can job hunt or take courses on line without paying for a sitter while she drives to a public internet access site;
- families sitting in cars outside of McDonald’s at night to catch a wifi signal their kids need to do their homework;
- entrepreneurs without an internet connection at home sitting in a parking lot to access public library wi-fi,
- homebound grandmas reading to kids at Headstart via Skype,
- snowbirds from Lake Superior’s North Shore, who have moved to Hawaii, stay connected to their hometown by watching their high school team’s football games livestreamed over the internet.
Bigger picture, here’s what we are seeing as the gap between urban and rural connectivity and affordability continues to grow:
- large publicly traded companies have great difficulty bringing the necessary investment to rural areas
- communities setting their own standard for what level of broadband is ”good enough” are unable to find a provider partner willing to invest with them in their future…
- the Connect America Fund (CAF2) standard of 10/1 (compared to FCC broadband definition of 25/3) threatens to build in permanent second-class status for rural America.
Ensuring that all Americans – even rural Americans and Americans living on tribal lands — have access to world-class broadband and the skills to use it requires that we all work together. Not-for-profits, business and government all must do their part.
So what should the federal government do?
Last week the Obama administration’s cabinet-level Broadband Opportunity Council released a report on the steps the administration can take on its own to improve programs that support broadband access for poor and geographically remote communities.
The report estimates that changes in existing funding programs could open up $10 billion in federal grants and loans for “broadband-related activities.” Net government spending would not be affected, meaning that in some cases grantees would have to make the same amount of money go further if they were going to include broadband projects.
When implemented, the report’s recommendations will help America head in the right direction. But it’s not enough.
Because there are real limits on what the Administration can do on its own, Congress must act. The kind and amount of funding needed has to come from Congress.
Congress has made a positive difference in the past.
For example, ARRA investments in Minnesota deployed miles of network that wouldn’t otherwise be built yet and trained many people. It was a game changer for hard-to-serve parts of Minnesota.
On behalf of the rural communities I represent, I urge you to consider the following ideas about what you can do to help rural America:
- A number of bipartisan bills currently under consideration deserve your support:
- The Rural Health Care Connectivity Act supports the critical care that skilled nursing facilities provide, often using telehealth services, thus helping to ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality health care no matter where they live.
- The Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act to increase wireless broadband access in rural communities by providing incentives for wireless carriers to lease unused spectrum to rural or smaller carriers.
- Senator Klobuchar is preparing a bill that builds on the idea of “dig once,” streamlining permitting for broadband deployment on federal lands, and improved cooperation with states.
- Beyond that, here are other areas in which America needs your leadership.
- Incent the States. A very effective way for the federal government to partner with states is to provide incentives for States to come in with some match to federal resources. The E-rate 10% match is a good example. State legislators are motivated to engage on an issue when they can leverage additional investment from the federal government. Adding a state coordinating role for federal broadband funding would give states the authority to enhance or incent collaboration. States with coordinated approaches get more money.
- More funding – preferably in the form of loans – for municipalities and co-op networks
- Blandin Foundation believes that the best chance for broadband investment and deployment in rural is significant expansion of rural broadband cooperatives, especially in partnership with local units of government. . Co-ops and government/co-op partnerships are the right emerging partnership model for rural America.
In closing, here are some key ideas I want to leave you with:
- Rural is rich. It is a place of resources and talent, where resourceful and self-reliant people can make small investments go a long way.
- Broadband connectivity is key to innovation. For example, precision agriculture – which significantly increases land productivity – requires broadband-to-the-farm.
- We need federal investment in both deployment AND adoption strategies for rural broadband.
- Each rural community is unique and rural funding streams need maximum flexibility (not AS much true in urban spaces where you can count on a suite of institutions being in place)
- Investment in rural America is an investment in national security: “a strong America relies on a strong rural America.” And a strong rural American relies on broadband.
- In sum, everything is better with broadband.
Most of all, I hope that you catch broadband fever.
Helping rural places get the broadband they need to remain vital will win you votes on both sides of the aisle. Because a future-proof broadband network is now the essential infrastructure for rural.
And a little bit about the Senate Democratic Steering & Outreach Committee…
The Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee is dedicated to fostering dialogue between Senate Democrats and leaders from across the nation. Each year, the Steering Committee hosts numerous meetings with advocates, policy experts, and elected officials to discuss key priorities and enlist their help in the development of the Senate Democratic agenda. The Committee serves as a liaison between Senate Democratic offices, advocacy groups, and intergovernmental organizations. It is one of two Democratic Leadership Committees in the Senate and is chaired by Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) and vice chaired by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH).