The only thing better than hosting a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the importance of rural broadband is hosting one right here in South Dakota. Rural Americans, like many people throughout our state, understand the unique opportunities that broadband connectivity can provide, which is why I took the committee on the road for a field trip of sorts before Congress reconvenes this fall, hosting a hearing at Southeast Technical Institute on “Transforming Rural America: A New Era of Innovation.”
Having a variety of perspectives on this issue is important, and I want to thank Brendan Carr, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, and Nebraska U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer for coming to South Dakota to join me and representatives from Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, Avera eCARE, SDN Communications, and VIKOR Teleconstruction. Their collective insight helped paint a clear picture of the hurdles we still need to overcome in order to bridge the digital divide in South Dakota and around the country.
Rural broadband connectivity is critical for many reasons, not the least of which, obviously, is that it helps connect people and communities to the world around them. The fact that it is 2019, and the technology exists to put a remotely operated vehicle on the surface of Mars, yet people in some parts of the United States can’t even connect to the internet is astounding, and that’s an understatement.
It’s for that reason that I’ve made closing the digital divide in rural America one of my top priorities. Through much-need investments, modernized broadband mapping, and commitments from elected leaders and federal, state, and local agencies, accomplishing this goal is well within reach.
A fully connected United States means businesses can tap into markets that have been unreachable, and it means new educational opportunities for students and teachers alike. Imagine being able to have the world at your fingertips and what that can do to better position our students for careers now and in the future.
For folks in the agriculture community, this technological advancement means having additional state-of-the-art tools at their disposal to increase crop yields, eliminate overlap in operations, and reduce inputs like seed, fertilizer, pesticides, water, and fuel. And for telehealth services, connectivity potentially means reduced costs and fewer barriers to care.
As I said during the hearing, all of these applications are the result of having a reliable broadband network, and as we look ahead to next-generation fixed broadband and wireless services, it is critical we have the workforce and proper infrastructure in place to bring communities further into the 21st century.