For many, Wi-Fi feels like a given — it’s in coffee shops, libraries and even grocery stores. But for those living in rural areas, connecting to broadband services can be costly, time-consuming and frustrating.
In a field hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., broached the subject at Keene State College Friday with witnesses from around the country. The hearing, “Expanding Broadband Infrastructure in the Granite State,” focused on increasing access to broadband services in rural areas across New Hampshire.
… In her opening remarks, Hassan emphasized the importance of Internet access for businesses in an increasingly digital economy.
“As I travel across our state, I talk to businesses about their priorities and their challenges, and time and again, I hear from businesses here in the Monadnock Region and up in the North Country, in particular, about the urgent need to strengthen our broadband infrastructure,” Hassan said. “Our people and businesses simply cannot compete in a 21st-century innovation economy without broadband. And we must act now to address what’s an urban-rural divide that has persisted in our country and this state for far too long.”
… Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner for the Federal Communications Commission, spoke about the “homework gap,” wherein students fall behind in assignments because they don’t have stable access to the Internet.
“According to the Senate Joint Economic Committee, the homework gap is real. By their estimate, 12 million children across the country live in households without Internet access,” she said. “I am certain that some of them are right here in New Hampshire.”
Others, including Tom Strickland, who is president and co-owner of Sequoya Technologies in Peterborough, discussed the business impacts of limited connectivity.
“Quality, high-speed broadband has become as essential to business growth today as rivers were in the 18th and 19th centuries and as interstate highways were in the 20th,” he said. “ ... Over the last 30 years, the Internet has evolved from a science network used only by geeks to a utility service that businesses depend on. Unfortunately, that rapid evolution of technology has outpaced the regulatory frameworks needed to keep it running efficiently and ensure that all businesses compete on equal footing.”
… Hassan has co-sponsored the “Airwaves Act” with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., which would establish and provide additional funding to invest in rural broadband infrastructure. She also noted during the hearing that a group of Democrats from the Senate and House recently unveiled an infrastructure plan that included $40 billion in direct spending for broadband infrastructure.