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Rural America Deserves a Reliable Connection

By Sen. John Thune

July 2, 2021

South Dakotans and other Americans who live in rural areas deserve the same internet access as people living in urban areas. Expanding internet access in rural America has long been a priority for me, and building and maintaining reliable networks across the United States has never been more critical.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of the internet more than ever before. As the nation locked down, the internet became more vital to everyday life. Reliable broadband networks are an essential component to help rural Americans stay connected, and expanding broadband will spur 5G deployment in the small-town communities that have unfortunately lagged behind their big-city counterparts. 

5G mobile broadband technology has the power to change the way we interact with the internet. 5G will be 100 times faster and support 100 times as many devices, enabling massive breakthroughs in health care, transportation, agriculture, and other key industries. I've been supportive of this breakthrough technology from the beginning. In fact, working alongside local leaders, we made Sioux Falls one of the first cities in the country to install 5G networks.

U.S. companies are already building out 5G networks, but there’s more work to be done. We need to remove regulatory and permitting hurdles and ensure that companies have access to the spectrum they need to build strong networks. We’ve already seen progress after my MOBILE NOW Act became law in 2018. Despite these important steps, we must continue to pass smart and effective legislation to keep America leading the race to 5G and help rural America stay connected.

My Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, for example, would help address workforce issues by helping increase the number of workers enrolled in 5G training programs and identify ways to grow the telecommunications workforce to meet the demands of 5G. My STREAMLINE Act focuses on updating current law to speed up the permitting of 5G-required antennas called “small cells,” while still respecting the role of state and local governments in making deployment decisions.

There is another significant part of the 5G technology equation, and that’s broadband networks. We cannot have a successful deployment of 5G without reliable broadband. Simply put, if we don’t build out broadband in rural America, these areas will be excluded from access to 5G. I believe in making smart investments in this area and not making the mistakes that happened under former-President Obama’s stimulus package, where Congress attempted to spur broadband deployment by providing large sums of funding with little to show for it. Lack of coordination, bad mapping, and a host of other factors led to wasted funds.

I recently helped lead a Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband hearing on building resilient broadband networks, and a South Dakotan joined the panel of experts. Denny Law, the CEO of Golden West Telecommunications in South Dakota, spoke on the specific challenges of deploying broadband in rural areas. By listening to the advice of these experts, including Denny, Congress has an opportunity to get it right and properly support the deployment of reliable and resilient networks without wasting taxpayer dollars.

There's no doubt that reliable, fast internet is an essential element of our nation’s infrastructure. Like roads and bridges and railways and airports, strong internet networks keep our economy going. However, the race to 5G is also an issue of global competitiveness. We must stay ahead of countries like China that are also working to implement this technology.

The recent surge in cyberattacks in industries like energy and meatpacking has spotlighted how integral technology will be to modern homeland security. 5G has a big part to play in our technology future, and we should be laser-focused on building out 5G networks and keeping America at the front of the pack with this technology. This will be vital to our national security for years to come.

I’ll continue to work to advance nationwide 5G deployment and fight for our rural communities that deserve to have the full benefits of the 5G revolution. This is a race that we cannot afford to lose.