With schools and offices throughout the country closed to stem the spread of COVID-19, access to broadband is critical as citizens increase internet usage for online classrooms, teleworking and try to stay connected and informed.
Unfortunately for many rural Americans, a troubling situation is made worse by lack of critical connections high-speed internet provides. Federal Communications Commission data show 26.4% of rural Americans lack broadband access.
“Rural students without broadband access are going to be limited in their ability to stay connected with teachers and peers and stay on top of schoolwork. And in many cases, adults in rural households have off-farm jobs that may require them to work from home at this time. Without that option, their jobs could be in jeopardy,” explained the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) RJ Karney.
With the decline in primary care physicians throughout rural America, broadband access also allows medical personnel to consult with specialists on results, diagnoses and treatments.
“With health care facilities in all communities poised for an onslaught of potentially very sick and certainly very contagious COVID-19 patients, doctors and nurses in rural facilities have to be able to quickly connect with specialists. Telemedicine networks, which require broadband access, are likely the best way to do that,” Karney said.
Ensuring reliable access to broadband throughout rural America is a priority for AFBF and the Alabama Farmers Federation. Congress recently passed the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, requiring broadband providers to report more specific data to create a more accurate National Broadband Map. With more precise data, federal agencies can target funding to areas in need.
Additionally, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, sent a letter to President Trump requesting emergency funds be directed to expanding rural broadband.