Senator Graham Pushes For Rural Broadband Expansion

Staff Report

Friday, June 5th, 2020

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and the members of the South Carolina congressional delegation sent a letter to congressional leadership urging the importance of including robust measures to expand broadband access in underserved areas in future stimulus packages.

In the letter, the South Carolina delegation emphasized the disadvantages experienced by Americans without internet access, the advantages of telehealth resources, and the importance of expanded broadband infrastructure.

“During this pandemic, unconnected Americans are at more of a disadvantage than ever,” wrote Graham and members of the delegation. “In pursuing the goal of affordable access to high-speed Internet nationwide, we are advocating for an innovative approach that addresses access, affordability, and adoption to help bridge the broadband gap as expeditiously as possible. This virus has created an added urgency in ensuring our citizens have the necessary resources needed to adapt to our current circumstances.”

#####

A COPY OF THE LETTER IS BELOW:

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Leader McConnell, and Leader Schumer,

Thank you for your leadership to provide relief for Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. As you consider legislative priorities in any upcoming stimulus packages to address this public health crisis, we ask that you include robust measures to expand broadband access in underserved areas and make it affordable for all. According to the 2019 broadband deployment report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 18 million Americans lack basic broadband internet access, and experts agree the true number is far higher.  These unserved Americans disproportionately live in rural areas.

During this pandemic, unconnected Americans are at more of a disadvantage than ever. Many facilities that previously provided free internet access, such as libraries and schools, are now closed in many states, and students without this access are likely to fall behind their peers. Patients may have difficulty receiving the appropriate health care if they are unable to interact with their provider through remote video communication. Americans without an internet connection are also unable to access information provided online by federal, state, and local public health officials, increasing their vulnerability to the virus.

These compelling reasons for expanding affordable broadband access only scratch the surface of the urgency of the need to connect all Americans. We are proud of the work South Carolina has done to expand access thus far. We have supported federal investments through the FCC’s Universal Service Fund and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utility Service to expand broadband infrastructure and adoption for unserved households, businesses, and community institutions. This includes over $27 million in recent grants through the USDA’s ReConnect program to develop high-speed internet in rural areas in Orangeburg, Kershaw, Berkeley, and Charleston counties. These funds will bring critical access to thousands of households, from farmers needing to connect to new markets to students needing to engage in remote learning.

We need to build on these past achievements and provide substantial investments to close this “digital divide” once and for all. These investments should fund responsible, future-proof infrastructure projects, such as Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative’s CarolinaConnect program, which is deploying a fiber-optic broadband network to provide affordable and reliable service for their customers.

In pursuing the goal of affordable access to high-speed Internet nationwide, we are advocating for an innovative approach that addresses access, affordability, and adoption to help bridge the broadband gap as expeditiously as possible. This virus has created an added urgency in ensuring our citizens have the necessary resources needed to adapt to our current circumstances. We look forward to working with you and our colleagues to ensure that we provide internet access for all of America, during this pandemic and in the future. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Signed,

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

U.S. Senator Tim Scott

U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn

U.S. Representative Joe Wilson

U.S. Representative Jeff Duncan

U.S. Representative Tom Rice

U.S. Representative Ralph Norman

U.S. Representative William Timmons

U.S. Representative Joe Cunningham