Recent Op-Eds

Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural America

By Sen. John Thune

June 24, 2022

Rural communities across the country too often fall behind when it comes to getting access to the most efficient and effective broadband technology – technology that’s so common in urban areas that it’s often taken for granted by those who live there. By no fault of their own, rural communities are often overlooked. But that shouldn’t be the case. South Dakotans and other rural Americans shouldn’t be penalized for where they live or work. They deserve the same broadband access as their urban counterparts, which is why I have long focused on expanding rural broadband access and 5G services. 

During my last broadband roundtable event in Sioux Falls, I heard firsthand from the folks who are on the ground, building out networks across the state. Among many issues, I heard about the challenges these companies face when it comes to supply chain shortages and increased construction costs. I also invited Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr to attend the roundtable so he could hear directly from South Dakota broadband providers about the need to reduce regulatory barriers. Hearing feedback directly from the source is invaluable, and I appreciated the commissioner’s willingness to attend.  

Having reliable rural fixed broadband services is key to ensuring that rural communities are able to access 5G – the next wave of mobile broadband internet. 5G offers tremendous potential for rural communities, whether it’s better access to telehealth or the opportunity to implement precision agriculture. I am committed to smoothing the path for these services, which will be critical as we build out 5G networks, not just in cities and suburbs, but in rural communities across the United States. 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 key industries in South Dakota and around the country.

U.S. companies are already building out 5G networks, but there’s more work to be done. Washington needs 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. 

I’ve introduced a number of other bills to help keep the United States at the forefront of the 5G revolution and ensure that 5G technology makes its way to rural communities. My STREAMLINE Act, for example, would expedite the deployment of the small cells needed for 5G installation while respecting the role of state and local governments in making deployment decisions. Importantly, it would make it more affordable to bring 5G to rural areas by addressing the costs of small-cell deployment. 

In terms of workforce, a critical component to winning the race to 5G, my Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, which became law last year, will help increase the number of workers enrolled in 5G training programs and identify ways to grow the telecommunications workforce to meet the demands of 5G. 

I will continue to work to support every part of the 5G equation – from physical technology to spectrum to a 5G workforce – so the United States can stay at the forefront of this internet revolution. I will also continue to make fixed broadband and 5G access in rural communities a priority. We can’t afford not to.