EDITORIAL: Expanding rural broadband access necessary

Muskogee Phoenix, Okla.
·2 min read

Mar. 11—Expanding access to broadband services across rural Oklahoma was needed long before distance learning and social distancing became part of the American vocabulary.

The global pandemic, however, highlighted the urgency of that need. Statehouse Republicans appear ready act, prioritizing the need by introducing measures to accommodate that task.

Oklahoma lags the national average in terms of overall broadband availability, said Brian Whitacre, an Oklahoma State University agricultural economics professor. His research shows just more than 70% of rural Oklahomans have broadband internet access — availability increases to 83% on a nationwide basis.

Even in rural areas where the availability of broadband internet exists, Whitacre said residents are slow to adopt the technology and do so at lower rates than their urban neighbors. He said that can be attributed to demographics that reflect lower household incomes and somewhat older populations in the state's rural areas.

State Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, co-chairman of a committee tasked with creating the basic infrastructure for broadband internet access and a plan to expand access to unserved and underserved areas, said leaders must align state law with federal requirements that will allow the state to capture federal funds available for that purpose.

Last year the Federal Communications Commission approved a $20.4 billion fund to ensure rural residents across the United States have access to broadband internet connections. Monies from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will be allocated during the next 10 years to cable providers, wireless companies and electric co-ops to build out the infrastructure.

The Federal Communications Commission approved a plan in February that will provide for the administration of $3.2 billion to help poor Americans pay for broadband access they needed during the coronavirus pandemic. The four-member commission approved rules for a program that will offer up to $50 a month to low-income households — and up to $75 a month to households on Native American lands — for broadband services.

We support efforts to make broadband internet more accessible to all Oklahomans. Lawmakers must be aware of costs, which in too many instances restrict access.