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Lack of Internet Access Hinders Rural America’s Education and Economic Opportunities

Cloud, Republicans request information from FCC on broadband access issues 

WASHINGTONHouse Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.), Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Ranking Member Michael Cloud (R-Texas), and Oversight Republicans sent a letter to the Acting Chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Jessica Rosenworcel, requesting information regarding the status of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and their service to Americans in rural communities. A lack of competition and overreporting of access to broadband has plagued rural Americans with terrible customer service and unreliable internet access. These issues, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, have hindered the ability of rural America to participate in online educational content and online economic opportunities.   

“Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rural Americans were suffering from the lack of reliable internet access. The pandemic exacerbated the divide, further hindering rural America’s access to education and economic opportunity,” wrote the lawmakers. “According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), roughly 14.5 million Americans in 2021 lack access to high-speed broadband, which the FCC defines as download speeds of at least 25 mpbs. A recent study by Broadband Now, an independent research group, found that in reality, 42 million Americans live in places where they cannot buy broadband internet service, most of them in rural areas. This discrepancy is largely due to the fact that if an ISP offers service to at least one household in a census block, then the FCC counts the entire census block as covered by that provider. This, in addition to reliance on self-reported data, has led to overreported access, particularly for rural America.” 

“Rural students were twice as likely as urban students to report lacking adequate technology to complete their coursework during the pandemic. The lack of reliable internet access has also inhibited the economic recovery for many rural communities. More than 31 percent of workers in urban areas reported working from home full time in the previous week due to the pandemic, compared with just 13.61 percent of rural workers,” concluded the lawmakers. 

Immediate oversight is needed to better understand the problems with broadband access in rural communities, gain insight into what systems the FCC has implemented to tackle and respond to customer complaints, and get clarification on internal metrics the FCC uses to gauge their performance.  

In order to help Committee Republicans understand problems associated with broadband access, the lawmakers are requesting a briefing and information from the FCC on rural America’s internet access, speed, and customer support.   

Read the letter to Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel here.

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Author: Chris Okey

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