COVID-19 highlights rural broadband need


With schools and offices throughout the country closed to stem the spread of COVID-19, access to rural broadband is critical as students and employees transition to online classrooms and teleworking.

Unfortunately for many in rural America, an already troubling situation is being made worse by lack of the critical connections only high-speed internet can provide. Data compiled by the Federal Communications Commission shows that 26.4% of rural Americans lack access to broadband compared to only 1% of urban Americans.

“Rural students without broadband access are going to be very limited in their ability to stay connected with their teachers and peers and stay on top of their 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,” RJ Karney, American Farm Bureau Federation director of Congressional Relations, said.

With the drastic decline in primary care physicians throughout rural America, broadband access is also important for rural medical facilities, because it allows medical personnel to consult with specialists on test 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,” Karney said. “Telemedicine networks, which require broadband access, are likely the best way to do that.”

There’s also the human connection to consider, Karney noted.

“At a time when we’re supposed to be isolating ourselves to protect our physical health, keeping in close touch with friends and family is important to our mental health. Many of us rely on high-speed-internet-dependent tools like Facebook, Facetime and Skype to do that,” he said.

Ensuring reliable access to broadband throughout rural America is a priority for Farm Bureau.

The group praised Congress’ recent passage of the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, which requires broadband providers to report more specific data to create a significantly more accurate and granular National Broadband Map. With more precise data, federal agencies can target funding to areas that need it most.

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