The coronavirus pandemic has created a new reliance on the digital world. Students are learning online, patients are using telehealth to consult their doctors, and workers with jobs that can be done remotely are working from home.
But as those who are connected adapt, more than 1 million Georgians are left in the digital dark. These households — nearly 70 percent of them rural — have no access to reliable internet service. And in the locations where a reliable connection is available, the price is often too high for those already struggling to make ends meet. Those without high-quality internet are being left behind with respect to education, health care, and economic opportunity.
Of course, the digital divide long predates the pandemic. We have heard countless stories from our constituents of being forced to do homework in the parking lots of libraries and fast-food restaurants because that is the only place they can find an internet connection. Nearly two years ago, we started the House Rural Broadband Task Force with more than two dozen of our colleagues with the goal of bringing high-speed internet to every American household by 2025.
To achieve this, our task force crafted the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. This legislation expands previous investments to bring high-speed broadband infrastructure to every unserved American and ensures that an affordable option will be offered on these new networks. The bill promotes affordable access for all by providing financial assistance to low-income households and empowering local governments to offer their own community-tailored service. It also invests in states to help them implement their own plans to expand access, promote digital skills, and facilitate internet adoption.
The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act passed the House of Representatives last July as part of the Moving Forward Act, a comprehensive bill to modernize our nation’s infrastructure. High-speed internet is every bit as essential to our infrastructure as roads and bridges. All that needs to happen for rural Georgia to be connected is for the Senate to pass the bill and for the president to sign it.
Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, assisted by Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, has buried the legislation in his graveyard.
The votes of Georgians on Jan. 5 will determine whether 1 million Georgians and millions more across America are swiftly connected to the internet so they can participate fully in 21st-century commerce, health care, and education. Sending Sens. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington would extend the obstruction that has denied high-quality internet service to too many for far too long; electing Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will provide the votes needed for the Senate to finally get it done.
We have been here before. In the early 1930s, much of rural America lacked electricity because the cost to build the infrastructure was too high. Through the Rural Electrification Administration, established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, and the Rural Electrification Act, passed by Congress in 1936 with the support of both Georgia senators, the federal government invested in local cooperatives to allow them to bring electric power to unserved areas. Our communities prospered as a result.
In a 1938 speech announcing a Rural Electrification Administration project in Barnesville, FDR said that his “little cottage at Warm Springs, Georgia,” where he traveled to receive polio treatment, “was the birthplace of the Rural Electrification Administration,” for it was there that he realized the lack of affordable access to electricity in rural America.
Georgia now has an opportunity to be the birthplace of national action to deliver affordable access to a new century’s essential technology — high-speed internet — to every rural community. To seize this opportunity, we must elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate. They are committed to passing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.
Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, is majority whip for the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Georgia, represents the 2nd Congressional District of Georgia.
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