WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger articulated the clear need for expanded rural broadband across Central Virginia, and she emphasized the educational and economic inequities created by a lack of reliable high-speed internet in rural communities.
During a hearing focused on the benefits of high-speed internet in rural America, Spanberger shared the stories of Central Virginians who are currently facing unnecessary challenges due to the absence of broadband internet in their community. She collected their stories through her 2019 Rural Broadband Survey, in which she asked Central Virginians to describe how a lack of reliable broadband access has personally impacted them, their families, or their businesses. Click here to watch her remarks.
“Fundamentally, the issue of broadband connectivity is an issue of access to opportunity. While we’ve made improvements over the past few decades in boosting high-speed internet access in rural America, we haven’t adequately addressed the need for new and expanded broadband infrastructure in rural areas—including in portions of Central Virginia. This continued need for broadband access creates a growing divide between educational and economic opportunities available in our rural communities compared to those found in our suburban communities,” said Spanberger. “The constituents’ stories I shared highlight how a lack of broadband access can slow down farm operations, make it difficult for rural students to complete their homework, and limit healthcare resources available to rural patients. This divide is solvable, but we need to demonstrate the willpower to close the gap. I’ll keep fighting to provide the resources needed to support greater access to high-speed internet for all Central Virginians, and I look forward to hearing from additional families, businesses, and community leaders in our district about ways we can achieve progress on this critical, locally-focused infrastructure issue.”
Rural residents are significantly less likely than residents of urban areas to have in-home broadband internet. This digital gap can create long-lasting consequences for working families, students, and farmers—and it can hamper the ability of healthcare professionals, first responders, and law enforcement to perform their jobs effectively.
This hearing was held by the House Agriculture Committee’s Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee—on which Spanberger serves as a Member. She also serves as Chair of the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee.
Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to increase support for broadband infrastructure, address issues with connectivity mapping, & collect stories from Central Virginians impacted by a lack of high-speed internet access
In June, Spanberger successfully led the fight to approve a bipartisan amendment that would increase federal rural broadband infrastructure funding by $55 million. The amendment was passed by the House as part of an appropriations package last month. The increased funding will strengthen the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect Loan and Grant program, which partners with rural communities and businesses to expand high-speed internet infrastructure and increase e-connectivity in rural and underserved areas. Click here to watch Spanberger’s full remarks in favor of the amendment, including stories shared by Central Virginians through the 2019 Rural Broadband Survey.
In the first round of ReConnect Program grant applications this year, USDA saw a 3-to-1 ratio in applications submitted compared to federal funding available. To help address this clear demand for increased funding, Spanberger led this effort to increase ReConnect funding, worked with the House Appropriations Committee to identify cost offsets that would not negatively impact USDA, and gathered a bipartisan group of 12 additional Democrats and Republicans to announce their support for the amendment.
According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, one in four rural Virginians lacks access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. This digital divide can lead to consequences that impact educational and economic opportunities in rural America. For instance, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Census data, an estimated 17 percent of U.S. students do not have reliable access to computers at home—and 18 percent of all students do not have access to broadband internet.
Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to expand high-speed broadband internet access across Central Virginia’s rural communities, including by:
- Fighting for strengthened funding for rural broadband internet infrastructure in the communities that need it. Earlier this year, Spanberger led a bipartisan effort urging key House Appropriations Committee members to boost funding for rural broadband internet infrastructure—including through the ReConnect Program. And Spanberger also introduced and passed an amendment to improve FCC broadband internet data—and she articulated the need for improved FCC maps on the floor of the U.S. House, particularly as it impacts the eligibility of Central Virginia communities for federal funding.
- Bringing the eConnectivity concerns of Central Virginians directly to USDA leadership. During her first House Agriculture Committee hearing, Spanberger asked USDA Secretary Perdue about his thoughts on expanding rural broadband. Spanberger also invited Secretary Perdue to visit her district to hear directly from Central Virginia farmers and dairy producers, and get their feedback on current USDA policies and 2018 Farm Bill implementation. He accepted her invitation. Click here for a full video of her remarks.
- Working with colleagues to find common ground on rural broadband policy. Last month, Spanberger announced her appointment to a new task force focused on expanding high-speed internet access in rural communities. The House Task Force on Rural Broadband will provide coordination and leadership to increase investment in rural broadband internet infrastructure across the United States, and it will operate under an overarching goal to make sure all Americans have reliable access to high-speed internet by 2025. And as Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition’s rural opportunity task force, she co-authored an op-ed in Fox News to highlight the need to pursue smart, bipartisan rural broadband infrastructure policies.