Millions of Americans working, going to school and living in America’s heartland unfortunately still do not have access to high-speed broadband internet e-Connectivity. In fact, of the 21 million Americans who lack high-speed broadband internet access, 80 percent are in rural areas and on tribal lands.
The impact of this divide is so much more than an inconvenience – it is devastating to the quality of life and overall prosperity in America’s rural communities, and therefore America as a whole.
Since taking office, President Trump has done more to narrow that gap than any other president since the 1930s by laying mile after mile of high-speed fiber optic cable to connect rural Americans to the internet.
This initial investment in expanding access to broadband dramatically transforms the lives of rural Americans in many ways, including by giving them access to telehealth services. This directly impacts the health and well being of millions of Americans and creates options for more choices for patients, one of the three pillars in President Trump’s newly announced America First Healthcare Plan. With access to broadband, Americans will have more opportunities to conduct routine checkups through telehealth services.
They won’t need to travel long distances to see a doctor. Rural hospitals will have a stronger connection to operate interactive video equipment and improve their suite of health services. Americans who live in rural places deserve access to quality and affordable healthcare just like the rest of America – and telehealth services can help deliver that.
Access to high-speed broadband internet is not simply nice to have, it is a necessity in the 21st century. Investing in the expansion of rural broadband is as vital as the rural electric and telephone networks were decades ago. If you have access to high-speed broadband internet, you can continue your education through distance learning, continue to access critical medical services remotely using telemedicine, or continue to run your business, and keep your staff employed, from your home.
To date, USDA has invested more than $826 million in new loans, grants and loan/grant combinations to deploy this critical infrastructure. But we are not stopping there. USDA has nearly $1.1 billion in additional funding to connect more rural Americans to the critical and lifesaving services like telehealth provide to millions of rural Americans.
Now more than ever, increasing access to telemedicine and distance learning is critical to building healthier and more resilient rural communities. It means our parents and grandparents and neighbors, friends and family can visit their doctors without entering a potentially dangerous environment.
Having a high-speed internet connection means America’s employers – both big and small – can keep payrolls running, and American workers can continue to do their jobs from home. Rural America and the people who call it home should have these opportunities to continue with life’s obligations just as America’s urban and suburban communities do.
I am so proud of our rural communities that have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food, fuel and other products America depends on. We need rural communities more than ever during these trying times. Expanding access to broadband infrastructure puts America first and gives Americans more choices in how they receive the healthcare they need. USDA will continue to work at the direction of President Trump to ensure all Americans have access to broadband connectivity and are not left behind in the modern economy that depends on e-Connectivity.
Sonny Perdue currently serves as the U.S. secretary of agriculture.