By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
The internet provides us access to so many important resources in our lives, from entertainment and education to commerce and health care services. Nevadans rely on broadband to do important tasks, like finishing school assignments, growing businesses, staying connected to loved ones and seeking quality health care through telemedicine appointments with their doctors. Yet access to reliable broadband isn’t available to fifty-three percent of rural communities in Nevada. And for many of Nevada’s geographically isolated rural communities along Interstate 80, there is only a single line for internet access. Currently, should anything happen to this line, towns like Battle Mountain are completely cut off from the internet, making even simple debit and credit card transactions impossible. This lack of secure broadband holds our rural communities back and even puts lives in jeopardy.
On a recent trip to Winnemucca, a first responder told me how unreliable broadband hinders his ability to protect our rural communities. When phones and response systems cut out, first responders can’t provide timely help following medical emergencies or wildfires. These are moments when every second counts and lives are on the line, and it’s crucial that our brave first responders have every digital resource and tool available to help them keep our communities safe. But it’s not just emergency personnel who rely on the internet to do their jobs. Rural hospitals like the Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital worry connectivity problems are delaying critical services and treatment for their patients. But with reliable broadband, telemedicine has the potential to secure quality, timely and affordable health care for Nevadans regardless of zip code. Through telemedicine, small rural hospitals could provide quality services at lower costs by reducing readmissions and avoiding emergency visits. Services ranging from radiology and psychiatry to dentistry and cardiology can be provided through telemedicine, facilitating access to specialty care that could otherwise require hundreds of miles of travel to a city center. These treatments can spell the difference between life and death, and it’s our duty to ensure our hospitals and medical centers are armed with broadband that taps into the potential of telemedicine and saves lives.
Beyond rural health care, small businesses also stand to benefit from reliable broadband infrastructure. Rural businesses are being hamstrung because they lack the high-speed internet and digitization necessary to transform business operations and process day-to-day transactions. A recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Amazon found that through the full integration of digital tools, rural small businesses in Nevada could increase sales and add over 9,800 jobs in just three years. It is clear the federal government needs to do more to support and connect our rural communities.
As Nevada’s United States Senator, I’m developing legislation that expands access to reliable broadband in as many innovative ways as possible. I introduced needed legislation that would coordinate and streamline access to federal broadband resources for Nevada’s remote areas and their libraries, schools and businesses through the bipartisan ACCESS BROADBAND Act. This bill passed the House of Representatives with the unanimous support of both parties, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to bring it to the Senate floor. This legislation will help lay the groundwork for broadband that will serve the needs of the first responders, hospitals, small businesses and teachers of our state who need fast, reliable internet.
I’m also fighting for legislation that I recently cosponsored, the Digital Equity Act of 2019. The bill would invest $250 million in federal grants for state and local projects that bridge the technology divide and promote digital literacy so all communities have the skills and resources needed to fully participate in our economy and society. Additionally, I’m proud of the bipartisan legislation I introduced with Republican Senator Rob Portman on rural broadband and economic development that passed as part of the Farm Bill last year, which creates an Interagency Rural Council and a Rural Broadband Integration working group. These groups will address the unique needs of rural communities and devise solutions to expand broadband access. I’m also always fighting for federal dollars to advance these efforts, like the $550 million I advocated in February for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund rural broadband grants and loans across the country, as well as the $29 million awarded to Nevada by the FCC to expand broadband access. Grants to local projects are always a priority, so I’ll continue to secure grants like the $450,000 awarded last year to the State of Nevada Department of Public Safety in Carson City to implement a public safety broadband network. I’m confident these initiatives and funding, combined with my broadband legislation, will create tailored solutions that actually address the individual needs of our rural communities in Nevada, and throughout the country.
Through my travels across our state, I’ve heard from Nevadans in every rural county on this issue. At my roundtable in Winnemucca, local entrepreneurs, public safety officials, educators and community leaders stressed that access to reliable internet service is essential for small businesses, for education and for keeping in touch with loved ones. Advocates on the ground like Nevada State Broadband Director Jojo Myers Campos also work tirelessly to develop broadband projects that are making a difference for how Nevadans live their daily lives. Moving forward, I’m excited to explore new opportunities to help partner and promote smarter rural cities and towns that utilize new technology and provide more efficient, sustainable solutions to our states’ challenges.
Access to reliable broadband is key to harnessing the potential of all of our communities, from business to education to health, and it’s time every county in Nevada, from Pershing and Esmeralda to White Pine and Eureka, has access to reliable internet. As Nevada’s Senior Senator, I’m committed to improving opportunities for all Nevadans and to making sure our state continues to be the Innovation State, in both our rural and urban communities.