By: Esther Honig
Harvest Public Media
A new poll suggests 72 percent of voters, regardless of party affiliation, believe Congress and federal regulators “need to do more” to bring high-speed internet to rural Americans.
The survey, done by by the organization Connect Americans Now, which advocates for using TV frequencies for wireless internet, comes just a few weeks before the midterm elections.
While broadband has been on the government’s to-do list since the George W. Bush presidency, more than 23 million rural Americans still lack access to sufficient speeds, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
In 2017, the FCC granted nearly $1.5 billion to fix connectivity issues in rural America through its Rural Broadband Auctions. Missouri received the most funding ($254 million), followed by Illinois (about $99 million). But some experts and and at least one state says the funding isn’t enough.
This year, Colorado Sen. Don Coram, a Republican, sponsored a successful bill that allocates an estimated $125 million in state funding for rural broadband. He said Colorado could use more support from the federal government, but he said that money often comes with heavy restrictions..
“The federal government doesn’t always look at the interest of rural Colorado,” he said. “They’re looking at the big voting blocs.”
Connect Americans Now, which has about 150 members across the country including founding member Microsoft, surveyed 800 registered voters in August. It found 69 percent of voters believe the lack of broadband puts rural Americans at a disadvantage. And that’s people from all economic backgrounds who live in rural areas, according to a Pew Research Center study earlier this year.
The Connect Americans Now poll, which was provided exclusively to Harvest Public Media, also suggests that using TV white spaces (unused television channels) has wide support by voters as a means of putting broadband in remote areas.
The organization is “amazed by how many people come to us with stories about how the digital divide is impacting their lives and livelihoods,” Connect Americans Now Executive Director Richard T. Cullen said. “This poll provides deeper proof of the depth of the problem and the hunger for action on this critical issue across the country. Voters are rallying behind efforts to tear down barriers to new technologies, like TV white spaces, which could help close the digital divide.”
There are broadband caucuses in both chambers of Congress. All House seats are on the ballot nationwide, while Senate caucus members Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both Democrats, are vying for re-election.