Since 2014, I’ve been pushing efforts to increase broadband access for all North Dakotans. From a proposal we called “Broadband North Dakota” during my race for the Public Service Commission, to introducing a revolving loan program in the 2015 Legislative session that would have made broadband infrastructure more affordable, we’ve recognized the need to do more. Unfortunately, both of those efforts were turned away. The need is still there, particularly in rural North Dakota.
More than half of North Dakota’s population lives in small, rural communities. Those communities are strong and contribute greatly to the state, but their ability to compete is being hindered by areas that lack reliable internet access. Today, access to high-speed internet is necessary to compete and grow in our modern economy, but thousands of rural North Dakotans struggle to get proper access and speeds.
A lack of proper broadband capabilities not only hinders small businesses’ competitive ability, but also innovation. Small businesses in rural communities whether in agriculture, energy, or sales can be highly successful by conducting business over the internet. High-speed internet access incentivizes businesses to remain in small communities.
Farmers and ranchers across North Dakota are using innovative technologies to increase yields, conserve resources, and compete in the international farm economy. Doctors can use modern technology, like telemedicine, to reach critical access sites in rural areas potentially reducing health care costs. Students would benefit. This is economic. It makes sense.
The digital divide is hampering economic opportunities. Inadequate internet access is holding back our business owners, farmers, doctors, and students. But there are concerted efforts to make it better. Organizations like the Connect Americans Now Coalition (CAN) have been pushing solutions to close this divide, but need government approval. For example, if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were to approve the use of sufficient TV White Space spectrum in every media market, broadband could be made accessible for millions of Americans due to private investment and innovative “wired” and “wireless” technology.
As I said above, previous efforts on the local level have stalled. And though the USDA Rural Development has done great work, more should be done. I encourage you to contact Senators Heitkamp and Hoeven and Representative Cramer to encourage them to pressure the FCC to bring high-speed internet access to rural North Dakota. By opening up public resources and encouraging private investment by organizations like CAN, thousands of North Dakotans will be able to realize new opportunities.