Life in the age of COVID-19 is something we’ve all had to learn to navigate. While many of our schools and businesses remain closed, much of our commerce, education, and health care has largely gone virtual.
As our nation reacted to the spread of the coronavirus, we quickly learned what tools are essential to the well-being and strength of our local economies. One of the most vital tools is access to broadband internet service. Access to broadband was a pressing issue to many rural Oklahoma communities before the pandemic, but now the problem is even more evident.
With Oklahomans being asked to stay at home for the health and safety of their neighbors, reliable, high-speed internet became necessary for us to continue with our daily routines and responsibilities. Teachers took to their virtual classrooms. Doctors relied more heavily on telehealth. Business owners spurred innovative solutions keeping their businesses open. But most importantly, it has allowed us to stay in touch with family and friends, even when we can’t do so in person.
Unfortunately, reliable, high-speed broadband remains inaccessible to thousands of Oklahomans and the COVID-19 pandemic has only shined a spotlight on the inequities our rural communities face due to the lack of broadband. Families struggle to keep their children connected with their teachers through online learning. Patients lack the telehealth resources to receive medical attention without going into the doctor’s office. In all, more than 30 million rural Americans live on the wrong side of this digital divide.
As our nation’s economy becomes more and more reliant on connectivity, our rural communities can no longer afford to be disconnected.
Over the last two months, I have been reminded of the innovative spirit of rural Oklahoma. Teachers, doctors, and business owners have come up with creative solutions to continue their work of supporting their communities in the face of this technical challenge. Neighbors have looked after one another and individuals have turned into social distanced caretakers for our elders.
As Congress and the Administration continue to respond to this public health emergency, bridging the digital divide must be a priority. As Ranking Member of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, I have prioritized expanding opportunities for STEM education and teacher training in rural areas and increasing access to broadband.
Investments in rural broadband continue across our country, but our work on this issue is far from finished.
From Main Street to the classroom to the doctor’s office, broadband will continue to play a large role in our daily lives. I firmly believe if we bridge the digital divide between urban and rural America, rural America will thrive. And when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.