Having access to affordable and reliable broadband has become one of the most critical infrastructure challenges of our time, just like electricity, transportation and roadways were in the past. Many communities across America lack adequate and affordable internet service or do not have access at all, creating a “digital divide” between those who live in cities and those who live in rural areas. According to the most recent statistics available, over 20 million Americans do not have broadband or high-speed internet access - and most of them live in rural communities.
Extending broadband to rural America is critical for many well-documented reasons, including robust economic growth, enriched educational opportunities, increased access to healthcare through telemedicine, improved public services and safety, and civic engagement. Just as important, expanding access to affordable and dependable high-speed internet is critical to improving access to justice for Americans living in rural communities. Without adequate high-speed internet, attorneys and self-represented litigants in rural areas face extremely high barriers, and these communities cannot attract new lawyers. The result is a pressing access to justice issue.
Numerous bipartisan bills have been introduced in Congress to bridge the digital divide and expand broadband to rural communities. These include bills that would create new funding streams, increase subsidies to states, establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth to unify and streamline the management of federal broadband resources, and remove regulatory impediments. Most important, the Broadband Data Act, just signed into law (Public Law 116-130) on March 23, will improve the accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) broadband availability maps by strengthening the process by which broadband data is collected. These maps are used to allocate federal funding to expand broadband to rural areas.
In the time of the coronavirus
Enactment of this legislation is a major victory, but much more needs to be done by federal, state and local governments. Inadequate access to high-speed internet disadvantages those living in remote areas in critical ways that have become even more apparent as a result of the changes to daily life brought about by the spread of the coronavirus.
Students across the country are trying to attend school through distance learning and medical professionals are trying to use telemedicine to expand access to much needed services, but inadequate broadband is hampering those efforts in many geographic areas. Recognizing the need to do more, Congress has already included $100 million for grants to increase broadband access in rural communities where at least 90% of households do not have adequate broadband, plus $25 million to expand broadband access for distance learning and telemedicine services in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that the President signed into law on March 27 (Public Law 116-136). It will take time and more appropriations to expand this capability, but we need to persevere in our efforts to bridge the digital divide, no matter how many years it takes.
How YOU Can Help This Year!
Advocacy During ABA Day Digital
Wednesday, April 22nd | 3:30 pm-4:30 pm EST
On April 22nd, from 3:30 to 4:30 pm EST, we urge you to join the ABA and Governmental Affairs Office to educate the Hill about the importance of expanding broadband access to rural America during #ABADay Digital. While we had to cancel the in-person portion of ABA Day, we are still poised to advocate on important issues like adequate broadband access during our first ever fully online annual advocacy event.
Just log on to the #ABADay Digital website and see links to take action quickly using preformatted emails and social media messages to support expanding broadband access and have an immediate impact on policymakers making important decisions on Capitol Hill. You can also personalize these messages to have more of an impact.
While there, you can also explore our advocacy campaigns on our three other #ABADay Digital issues – funding for the Legal Services Corporation, preserving Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and helping veterans get increased access to legal services – and send messages to help effect change in those areas too.
More opportunities to engage
In addition to sending messages to Congress, ABA Day participants with more time are encouraged to join live panels, TEDtalk-like presentations, Twitter takeovers, Tweetstorms, and more, punctuated with specific advocacy actions throughout the day.
For more details on our expanding broadband access discussions on April 22 and other #ABADay Digital activities on April 22 and 23, click here.