WASHINGTON - In case you missed it, The Keene Sentinel published an editorial highlighting U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan’s efforts to expand broadband access to Granite Staters. The editorial mentions recent events that Senator Hassan has hosted on broadband expansion, including one in Keene back in February on broadband availability in the region, and one last month with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on expanding broadband in the state’s rural and underserved communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Hassan is working to close the urban/rural digital divide, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senator recently joined her colleagues in introducing the Emergency Educational Connections Act to help ensure that all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices for remote learning. Senator Hassan is also working to improve the FCC’s flawed broadband coverage maps, which help determine billions of dollars in federal funding to rural and underserved areas, and introduced two bipartisan bills with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to spur investment in rural broadband projects.
See below for highlights from The Keene Sentinel editorial:
Credit Sen. Maggie Hassan and the rest of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation for continuing the focus on the broadband needs of the state and the region. The trick will be whether the rest of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission will follow through in addressing those needs.
In what now seems like a former world — that is, before the COVID-19 lockdown — Hassan hosted a roundtable discussion in Keene on Feb. 20 for local officials to discuss the effect of broadband unavailability in the region. Among the shortcomings she heard about, some proved hauntingly prophetic shortly afterward, as the effort to control the spread of the coronavirus has forced so many to rely so heavily on the Internet.
[…] On May 29, Hassan hosted another roundtable — this one held of necessity by teleconference and therefore itself broadband dependent — that served as an update of the February session. This one highlighted how efforts to meet the health, education, business and other needs of the state in a time of social distancing have been hampered by the so-called digital divide between those having broadband connectivity and those unable to obtain it due to rural location or for economic reasons.
[…] It was encouraging that FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was part of Hassan’s May 29 roundtable and that she shares Hassan’s view Internet access is not a luxury but an essential of daily life. And echoing the other participants in saying how that need has become even more critical following the coronavirus shutdown, she expressed optimism that the pandemic would motivate the FCC “to use this crisis to make meaningful progress with broadband for all.”
[…] Still, it’s clear more federal action is needed to assure high-speed access to all areas, and progress following promising sentiments from Washington has proved fleeting in the past. It was a welcome step, then, that the N.H. Congressional delegation announced last week the state had been added to the National Broadband Availability Map initiative of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That map is a geographic information system platform being developed to provide richer data identifying regions with insufficient Internet service to aid policy makers planning broadband expansion, and its funding has been a priority of New Hampshire’s Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
The step is a small one, and Shaheen and Hassan have also been pressuring the FCC to fix its broadband coverage maps, which indicate there’s broadband availability in some places, including locally, where there’s not. The delegation is also backing bipartisan legislation, including two bills co-sponsored by Hassan with Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, to provide financial incentives for broadband expansion in rural areas.
[…] On its website, the FCC proclaims its primary strategic goal to be “closing the digital divide ... so that the benefits of advanced communications services are available to all Americans.” Let’s hope the efforts to keep focus on the inequities rural areas face will result in FCC and other action in Washington to address the issue meaningfully. As Hassan put it at February’s pre-pandemic roundtable, “We really can’t compete in the economy, nor can we participate in our democracy and our communities, without access to broadband.” COVID-19 has since made the imperative greater.