Republicans are working to close the digital divide
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Over the last decade, the Internet has emerged as a critical driver of economic growth. It enables eCommerce, opens access to information, and connects people around the world. As more of our daily lives move online, access to a reliable Internet connection has become a lifeline—for those who have it. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the gap we already knew existed before the crisis. Closing the digital divide is an issue that needs immediate attention, which is why we asked our Democratic counterparts on the Energy and Commerce Committee to hold a digital divide and homework gap hearing. Unfortunately, while House Democrats claim to want to expand broadband access and close the digital divide, they continue to instead work in a silo and produce partisan proposals that have no chance of becoming law.

As Republican leaders on these issues for many years prior to 2018, we have seen the digital divide narrow, in no small part due to the policies Republicans put forward to encourage innovation and investment. Every year, broadband providers invest tens of billions of dollars in private capital for new and upgraded networks. Because of that investment – and the light-touch regulatory policies Republicans have helped put in place – Internet networks in the United States have withstood the stress-test that the COVID-19 lockdowns provided. In contrast, we saw how European networks performed: their governments had to bend their burdensome net neutrality rules to allow providers to throttle content.

But there’s still more work to be done. Demand for high-speed broadband will only continue to grow as more people permanently learn, work and receive health care online, and the investments made now will determine how our networks perform in the future. In order to address the challenges that lay ahead, we need to ensure all Americans have adequate access to reliable Internet. That starts with doubling down on policies that have proven to work: rightsizing regulatory reviews for the next era of communication technologies, encouraging intermodal competition among different services, and collaborating with state and local governments to ensure that their communities benefit from next-generation technologies. With strategic competitors like China orchestrating plans to focus on investing in next-generation technologies, now is the time to show leadership by encouraging our U.S. providers to deploy next generation technologies to all corners of our country.

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Today, we are reinvigorating the conversation to examine the regulatory landscape that governs the wireless, broadband and cable industries. These industries have evolved dramatically over the last two decades, and so must the regulations that govern them to promote competition in the marketplace. Republican members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce are unveiling 26 bills this week to provide a menu of options to update and improve the way we permit broadband infrastructure in this country. There are some principles that we should all be able to agree can move the needle to keep us ahead of strategic competitors. It is through these reforms, and increased collaboration with our state and local governments, that American consumers can take advantage of the benefits that the Internet has to offer.

As the federal government, we must lead by making changes to increase broadband deployment on federal lands. We should encourage providers to deploy infrastructure together to reduce the environmental impact and provide greater competition and choice for consumers. Additionally, we must encourage providers to invest more in the resiliency of their networks to withstand natural disasters. Lastly, anyone wishing to deploy next-generation technologies in this global race should get a timely response and an equal opportunity to deploy new or upgraded infrastructure to make sure Americans are connected in a reasonable timeframe.

More than 21 million Americans could not access broadband services before the pandemic began. COVID-19 has put a much-needed focus on the need to deploy broadband, and our reliance on the Internet will only continue. It’s up to Congress to seize this momentum and create policies that help close the digital divide for all Americans. We must work together and get this done. Our daily lives as we know them depend on it.

Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenRepublicans are working to close the digital divide Fauci gives Congress COVID-19 warning Fauci: We need more testing, not less MORE is ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Bob Latta is ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee.