WASHINGTON, D.C. (KNWA/KFTA) – As the price tag for the infrastructure bill is still being negotiated, one thing the funds in the bill should be covering is broadband in rural areas.
Broadband access was a big challenge throughout the pandemic because many schools transitioned to virtual learning. Arkansas Senator John Boozman said efforts to extend broadband to rural parts of Arkansas is on his agenda.
“Regardless of if the infrastructure package moves forward or not, I think Congress is committed to making sure that we do fix the broadband situation,” said Boozman. “If you’re not wired you simply aren’t going to grow, you aren’t going to prosper.”
Boozman praised the United States Department of Agriculture for their ReConnect program that invested $7.1 million into rural Arkansas back in 2020. Boozman said he’s in favor of increasing the dollars to make sure those who don’t have service are at the top of the list.
Congressman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas 4th congressional district also said broadband is also a part
of the infrastructure bill that will best benefit the people in his district.
“In rural America, the pandemic really highlighted the need for high-speed broadband when schools closed down and students were trying to learn from home but didn’t have the access to high-speed broadband,” said Westerman.
Westerman said he doesn’t want to spend more than $500 billion on the infrastructure bill and suggested that excess funds from COVID relief should contribute to the bill as well.
“If we started today from scratch and built every interstate highway system in the country…in today’s
dollars, we can build that for around 500 billion dollars,” said Westerman.
The National Rural Education Association has 43 state affiliates and members in all 50 states. Allen Pratt,
Executive Director of NREA, said that the deficiencies of broadband in rural areas, especially in schools
teaching virtually throughout the pandemic.
“It wasn’t a defiance of science, it was a lack of connectivity that they had to have in place,” said Pratt. “We saw a lot of what we call band-aid fixes where they might’ve had hotspots located across the county
where students can walk up or drive up to complete assignments.”
Pratt is hoping that efforts to extend and fund broadband access throughout rural America continue and is included in the infrastructure bill.
“We got to treat this in rural communities like it’s not just for rural education, this is a major component
to our rural community” said Pratt.