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Statement of the Hon. Jared Golden on Small Businesses and Their Limitations Without Reliable Access to Rural Broadband

Access to a robust broadband connection is critical for small businesses and the communities they serve.  However, 25 million Americans still lack access to high-speed Internet. Many of these Americans reside in rural parts of the country where it is more difficult and expensive to build out broadband networks. In fact, 58% of rural Americans believe that lack of access to high-speed internet is a problem in their hometowns. In my home district, parts of which are very rural, 37,000 people do not have access to a wired high-speed Internet connection and 9,000 do not have a wired connection at all.

This lack of access is particularly damaging to small business attempting to enter the market and compete with businesses in urban areas. Nationwide, 39% of homes in rural areas lack access compared to just 4% of urban households. Without access to reliable internet, small firms in rural areas miss opportunities to connect with new customers and cannot take advantage of cost saving tools like digital payment processing and online distribution services. Children in rural areas also need access to high-speed broadband to utilize cutting edge educational tools so we can usher in the next generation of tech-savvy entrepreneurs.

Rural communities need more resources to close the digital divide. That is why I wrote a letter to the Chairman of the FCC calling for policies that foster innovative technology in places where fiber cannot reach.  In Maine, only 5.5% percent of households are connected to a fiber-optic network. A mixed technology model and access to unlicensed spectrum is needed to establish connections in extremely rural parts of our country. Because we know that economic growth –the kind small businesses provide to communities –will help revitalize rural areas and make them attractive places to live, we must invest in our digital infrastructure. 

That is why I’m happy to raise this issue and fight to ensure that rural broadband is a top priority in any major infrastructure package. I am proud to serve on the House Rural Broadband Taskforce that will advance a transformative agenda to ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed broadband by 2025. This will include ensuring federal funding goes to the places in our country – like Minnesota and Maine – that need it most and identifying innovative approaches to accomplishing affordable universal service. Congress must work to coordinate federal resources and make common sense investments in targeted infrastructure projects.

Another way we can ensure rural areas get the resources they need to build out reliable and fast broadband is through accurate broadband mapping. Accurate mapping is essential so that we can target federal funds to unserved rural communities. This will require more granular data collection that assesses connectivity beyond the census block level. Broadband maps should also be vetted using input from public sources like the efforts taking place in Maine and Minnesota to assist NTIA as they update the National Broadband Map. 

Though increased granularity and public vetting are both powerful tools toward better maps, more effort must be made to improve the standardization and data accuracy of broadband service reporting. Doing so will help ensure that rural internet users do not end up with fewer broadband options and slower service. Today there are 2.5 billion people connected to the Internet and there will be twice as many connected by 2020. Our rural communities cannot afford to be left behind.

I hope that today’s hearing will spark a thought-provoking discussion on this gravely important issue, shed light on the barriers preventing rural small businesses from reaching their full potential, and foster solutions to close the digital divide. 

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