Achieving high-speed internet for rural Oklahoma

By Sen. MARKWAYNE MULLIN

Living in rural America should never hinder the outcome of your health and well-being.

However, for many individuals in rural Oklahoma and Tribal communities, access to reliable high-speed internet is a necessity they have gone too long without.

MULLIN IT OVER

Reliable broadband increases access to telehealth opportunities – including mental health and behavioral health care, and improvements in overall wellness. Instead of driving miles into town for care, patients can meet with medical professionals from the comfort of their homes.  

For others, connectivity will open new doors for educational tools such as online schooling, coaching, and additional employment opportunities. The sky is the limit.  

Rural Americans should enjoy and utilize the same affordable, high-speed access as those living in urban areas. According to the Department of the Interior, about 99 percent of Americans in urban areas have access to reliable internet. However, less than 50 percent of rural Oklahomans and 65 percent of individuals on Tribal lands have access to this same resource.  

I’m proud to continue the work I started in the U.S. House of Representatives to expand broadband access in rural communities and increase its affordability for those who need it the most.  

As your Senator, I’ve been working tirelessly with federal partners and local officials to close the digital divide. We know that rural broadband providers often have difficulty providing service to their communities. Too often, unrecovered costs from big tech companies are shifted and borne by small rural broadband providers—those inflated costs are then passed on to Oklahoma families.

This month, I introduced the Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act of 2023 to direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require proper contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF) from big tech companies and broadband providers. The USF exists to ensure that all Americans, especially those in rural areas, can have access to affordable internet services. It’s time that these companies contribute to building out the rural broadband networks they profit from.   

Big tech companies account for 75 percent of all traffic on rural broadband networks, straining the capacity of these networks substantially. While these companies earn significant revenue from the government’s investment in universal service and rural subscribers, they currently are not required to pay contributions to cover the cost of their delivery services. This is like sending a letter through the mail without a stamp. In order to reduce the financial burden on consumers and rural providers, and strengthen broadband connectivity throughout rural America, companies that benefit from rural fiber networks should contribute at a rate to cover associated costs of delivery. 

Big streamers rely on rural broadband networks to deliver their services to rural communities. Yet, the burden of cost is placed on the federal government, rural broadband providers, and the consumer. This new legislation ensures the USF has adequate resources to close the digital divide. 

It’s impossible to meet the demands of the modern world without reliable and affordable internet. I look forward to continuing this fight to bring high-speed connectivity to Oklahomans and rural Americans across the country.

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Craig Hall
Publisher, writer, photographer and teacher.
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