Last weekend, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and U.S. Congressman Greg Walden were in Weston for a meeting to discuss the importance of rural broadband deployment and adoption. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend and participate in a conversation about closing the digital connectivity gap between rural and urban areas in the Oregon and how we can support the best policies to make that happen.
Access to broadband is transformative, bringing new possibilities for public safety, education and healthcare to rural communities that are typically underserved. This is particularly important for areas like Eastern Oregon; Oregon ranks 25th nationally in connectivity and is 14 percent underserved — much higher than the national average.
One example of the power of connectivity is telemedicine. Rural communities often lack the healthcare resources of their urban counterparts; but with a strong broadband connection, residents can be diagnosed and monitored remotely, saving time and cost to receive what can be life-saving care. This is an area of particular emphasis for both Chairman Pai and Rep. Walden.
Just a few weeks ago Pai called for $171 million increase in funding for rural healthcare access. And earlier this year Walden convened hearings in the House on this issue. Chairman Pai also discussed the impact of the FCC’s recent Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which protects an open internet and encourages the investment, also important to our rural communities. The order replaces heavy-handed regulations with strong consumer protections and increased transparency that will also benefit the smaller ISPs that serve areas that are rural and lower-income.
Chairman Pai has also devoted much of his time and energy at the FCC to promoting 5G, the next generation of mobile technology that will change the way people in both urban and rural areas interact and use technology. Promoting smart policies while continuing to encourage private investment in mobile networks will ensure that rural residents have access to the same level of connectivity as those who live in more densely populated areas.
I’m proud of the work both leaders are doing to close the digital divide and believe that continuing to encourage broadband investment will be key.
Tom Gurr, executive director
Pacific Technology Alliance