Huffman pushes for accessible rural broadband service
North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman worked with fellow Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) and Rick Nolan (D-Minnesota) to introduce the New Deal Rural Broadband Act, an effort to close the digital divide and establish a broadband internet connection in every home, business and school.
The plan is based on Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal rural electrification model and aims to expand access to broadband internet in rural communities within the North Coast — and across the county — in order to compete in the world economy.
Huffman said in a statement the legislation was an ambitious blueprint to connect rural communities throughout the entire country.
“The longer we allow the digital divide to persist in rural America and Indian country, the more Americans will be left behind,” Huffman said. “All Americans deserve the benefits of improved economic development, as well as expanded public safety, health and education services. Our new legislation builds on the legacy and success of FDR’s New Deal to bring broadband access in rural America into the 21st century.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission, in 2016, 39 percent of rural America and 41 percent of people living on tribal land lacked access to advanced broadband services.
Connie Stewart, the executive director of the California Center for Rural Policy said nearly 28 percent of the North Coast region composed of Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties, do not have access to fiber optic-based broadband service.
“It’s been a while since there was a major push for this. California has not gotten its fair share of funding considering its size,” Stewart said. “A lot of federal programs require communities to have no service whatsoever to qualify (for federal money and assistance) but they count mobile service. Some of our local tribes don’t qualify because even if they have no internet service, they still have cell phone service.”
Stewart said this would change the access and affordability of reliable internet services for people who geographically would not been able to connect.
“Disabled people, seniors and minorities are less likely to have access to affordable and quality services. Having a comprehensive federal program will help advance access not only in this area but throughout the country,” Stewart said.
The act would establish a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives, which would coordinate and centralize all federal rural broadband programs. The act would also authorize $20 billion for new broadband infrastructure focused on rural communities and those without adequate access, including tribal areas.
Sean McLaughlin of Access Humboldt said the legislation is smart and hopeful considering the current administration.
“It’s similar to building roads when it comes to creating infrastructure for broadband access. They would run fiber optics to schools, libraries and health care facilities and ideally to everybody’s homes,” McLaughlin said. “It would address areas that have unserved and underserved internet connections.”
McLaughlin said there are currently connectivity issues ranging from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Oregon Coast and that historically, places with larger populations generally have better connections because they have more customers.
“Some places still have dial-up internet, they don’t even have DSL. In Humboldt County, there are some communities that have fixed wireless services on mountain top networks, which is as good as fiber optics, but they only cover some rural areas,” McLaughlin said. “We want this to serve the community and provide affordable access to networks through this act and the infrastructure it would provide.”