How many rural Americans can’t access high speed internet? | Opinion

In 1936 Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act, enabling federal low-cost loans to bring electricity to rural America. It gave folks access to amenities we take for granted: like indoor plumbing, refrigeration and radio. It transformed lives.

Today, nearly 90 years later, there’s another urgent need in rural America: reliable, high-speed internet. More and more, business is conducted online: banking, working, health care (telehealth), schooling, meetings, etc. Rural America is being left behind.

Ten counties in Utah have at least 92% coverage with 100mbps. But 10 counties have more than 30% of residents without high speed access. In a 2018 Pew Research survey, 24% of adults living in rural communities cited high speed internet access as a major problem.

While efforts have been made at state and federal levels, more could be done. Whether the real challenge is pole access or the customer cost per rural mile, Congress could rekindle some of the spirit of the REA, and quicken the installation of high speed internet by offering federal loans or grants that prioritize rural communities, streamlining the permit processes for rights of way or pole access, and encouraging conduit installations during road construction projects. We need to bring rural America into the 21st century.

Gina Worthen

North Logan

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