February 05, 2018

Udall Urges Trump to Prioritize Rural Broadband in Infrastructure Proposal

WASHINGTON – As President Trump and Congress continue to talk about making big investments in rebuilding America’s infrastructure, U.S. Senator Tom Udall and a group of Senate Democrats are calling on President Trump to prioritize expanding rural high-speed broadband internet in addition to roads, bridges and other construction needs. In a letter, the senators urged the president to work with them to close the digital divide by expanding broadband access to the 23 million Americans who still lack access, primarily in rural areas across New Mexico and the nation, including Indian Country. Udall is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“In an increasingly interconnected world and global economy, we must include in our discussion of infrastructure not just roads, bridges and waterways, but also high-speed internet access. While the vast majority of Americans have access to high-speed internet service, there is a stark disparity between urban and rural America,” the senators wrote. “This digital divide puts many rural Americans at risk of being left out of critical technological advancements and economic gains. The longer we delay investing in quality telecommunications for rural residents, the more challenging it will become to bridge the digital divide. As you finalize your proposal to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, we urge you to include at least $40 billion in funding for broadband deployment to help reach unserved Americans in rural and remote areas.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 39 percent of Americans who live in rural areas and 68 percent of people living on rural Tribal lands lack access to broadband.

In addition to Udall, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D–Nev.).

The full text of the letter is available below:

Dear President Trump:

As we enter 2018, there is broad agreement that investments in infrastructure are a critical component of strengthening our economy and promoting growth. Accordingly, we await the opportunity to review the Administration’s infrastructure plan and remain hopeful that there is common ground for us to work together to improve our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

In an increasingly interconnected world and global economy, we must include in our discussion of infrastructure not just roads, bridges and waterways, but also high-speed internet access. While the vast majority of Americans have access to high-speed internet service, there is a stark disparity between urban and rural America. This digital divide puts many rural Americans at risk of being left out of critical technological advancements and economic gains. The longer we delay investing in quality telecommunications for rural residents, the more challenging it will become to bridge the digital divide. As you finalize your proposal to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, we urge you to include at least $40 billion in funding for broadband deployment to help reach unserved Americans in rural and remote areas.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 2016 Broadband Progress Report, 10 percent of Americans lack access to high-speed internet in their homes. While that figure has been improving over time, it obscures a troubling statistic: the profound gap in access between Americans who live in rural and urban areas. While only 4 percent of urban Americans lack access to fixed broadband, 39 percent of Americans who live in rural areas—23 million people—lack access to high-speed broadband. For Americans living on rural tribal lands, the statistics are even bleaker, with 68 percent of people lacking access to broadband. If we intend to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband, we must make rural communities a priority for high-speed internet access.

The United States has always been at the forefront of technological innovation and the digital economy. But when almost 40 percent of our rural citizens lack broadband access and children grow up in households without access to the internet, we jeopardize the ability of our citizens to meaningfully participate in the civic and economic life of our country. As a nation we have long understood the importance of promoting access to advanced technologies, from electricity to telephone service to broadband, and we have long recognized the role that government plays in supporting the deployment of those critical services. We must continue working to ensure that no American is left without access to technology that has become integral to daily life.

As you prepare your infrastructure plan, we urge you to include funding to support broadband deployment to connect families, facilities and businesses in unserved rural areas across the country. We look forward to working with you to promote investments in quality telecommunications infrastructure for rural America.

Sincerely,