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Statement of Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez on Flipping the Switch on Rural Digital Entrepreneurship

In today’s economy, there is no doubt that digital technology has revolutionized the way entrepreneurs are looking to build, grow, and manage a successful business.  

Whether it’s utilizing the latest app to advertise a product or engaging in the sharing economy by renting out a work space online, these types of inventions have been a catalyst for small businesses in just the last decade. In fact, three out of four American small businesses utilize tech platforms for sales, according to industry estimates. And, an even higher amount use at least one digital platform to display products and services, as well as advertise. 

By harnessing the opportunities of digital platforms and marketplaces, many small businesses and entrepreneurs are experiencing growth and success. Look no further than the small businesses testifying here today.

It is also no secret that some of our country’s most innovative ideas and successful small businesses are hatched within our rural communities. Yet, in many rural areas throughout this nation, the absence of reliable broadband threatens to hold back an entire subset of entrepreneurs. 

Approximately 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans living on Tribal lands still lack mobile LTE broadband at speeds of 10 Megabit. Put another way, more than 30 percent of rural residents lack broadband, compared to just 2 percent of urban residents. Among rural tribal residents, the share increases to 66 percent.  

The stories behind these numbers are of real entrepreneurs whose ability to secure affordable capital, expand into new markets, and hire workers are all jeopardized without reliable internet access.  

So, it is important that any technological leap to 5G or future investment in infrastructure from Congress secures access to reliable broadband, no matter where in the U.S. the next small business finds itself. 

We cannot, however, encourage small businesses to adopt today’s digital platforms without simultaneously ensuring they have the training and resources necessary to protect themselves against cyberattacks and bad actors. 

Therefore, today’s conversation about expanding digital opportunities for rural entrepreneurs must also consider how we as members of this Committee, can work to make it easier and more affordable for the budding small business to not only utilize digital technology, but be smart about not exposing themselves to greater risks.   

Government policies should also keep pace with technological innovations and empower rural entrepreneurs to look beyond geographic boundaries. In order to access new markets and customers all over the world, small businesses need policies that encourage digital growth – not hinder it. 

Finding the right balance to expand the reach and capabilities of rural entrepreneurs while also keeping them safe is a priority for this Committee. 

It is my hope that today’s discussion can help identify ways to support and expand the number of businesses utilizing digital platforms, particularly for those that are in more rural communities.  With that, I thank each of the witnesses for joining us today and I look forward to your testimony. 

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