Capito, Others, Launch Senate Broadband Caucus

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito joined with several Senate colleagues Tuesday to form the Senate Broadband Caucus, a group that hopes to expand broadband internet access to rural areas across the country.

The group, started by five senators -- two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent -- does not have a specific legislative agenda, but will work to help coordinate federal efforts to expand broadband and come up with new ideas to do so.

West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation in broadband accessibility, Capito said, with 30 percent of residents lacking access. In the most rural areas of the state, that number is as high as 48 percent.

More than 550,000 West Virginians lack access to broadband internet.

“We have a coal economy,” Capito, R-W.Va., said. “We’re being asked to transition, we can’t transition without broadband, or we have to do it with one hand behind our back.

“The digital divide between rural and urban America is growing as essential broadband infrastructure falls behind in certain parts of the country,” she said.

Across the country, 10 percent of Americans lack access to broadband, while in rural areas 39 percent of residents lack access, according to the annual broadband progress report released by the Federal Communications Commission.

In launching the group, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asked people to imagine it was the 1930s and the Senate was launching an electricity caucus.

“The arguments would be almost identical, rural America without electricity couldn’t function,” King said, noting that it took an act of Congress, the Rural Electrification Administration, to expand access. “This is exactly the same issue.

“Businesses are leaving rural areas today and people are failing to move into rural areas today because of their lack of access,” he said.

Joining Capito and King in launching the caucus were Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

By:  David Gutman
Source: Charleston Gazette-Mail