High-speed internet has become even more important given the many ways COVID-19 has impacted our lives. However, for many residents and businesses in Washington’s rural communities, access to broadband networks is still hard to come by. To address this issue, Congress should make a real investment in enhancing and expanding broadband access into currently underserved communities.
At Red Apple Orchards in Orondo, we are only able to access internet via satellite, which can be a frustrating experience, especially in inclement weather. Heavy rains or snow can interrupt internet connections, making it harder to conduct business and impacting our bottom line.
As the president of the Chelan/Douglas County Farm Bureau, I know we are not alone in these concerns. Agriculture ranks second only to aerospace in Washington — and our state is first in the nation when it comes to apple production.
Both for my business and Washington’s agricultural industry as a whole, we need better access to reliable, high-speed internet connections if we are going to remain competitive in an increasingly global market and meet the growing demand for online and virtual services.
Moreover, as a mother and a board member of the Wenatchee Valley College Foundation, broadband access has become an absolute necessity. With the spread of COVID-19 putting in-person education in question, a lack of high-speed internet access could mean my children get left behind as schools transition to online learning.
For rural communities — as well as traditionally underserved ones — Congress must help bridge this digital divide to position our children to access new educational and professional opportunities throughout their lives.
Congress has done some good work in the months following the COVID-19 outbreak, passing trillions of dollars in economic stimulus legislation to support small businesses and workers who have been impacted by widespread closures in our economy.
Now, it is time for Congress to take bold action and prioritize broadband expansion for rural and other underserved communities.
On this issue, I hope — and believe — U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell will take the lead. Both senators have shown their support and understanding of this issue — calling for equal access to high-speed internet and recognizing the vast inequalities in access that rural and other vulnerable communities face.
It is time for Congress to come together once more and help make high-speed internet access a reality for all Americans by investing in our broadband infrastructure.
Not only will doing so benefit Washington businesses and residents, but it will help create much-needed jobs to help those who have lost theirs due to COVID-19 get back to work while strengthening our economy as a whole.
Now is the perfect time for Congress to make a commitment to closing the digital divide that has persisted and hurt our state’s small businesses, rural industries, and underserved communities for far too long. I am confident that Senators Murray and Cantwell will continue to lead on this issue. Our senators are well-positioned to leverage the bipartisan consensus on the importance of expanding connectivity to deliver results to communities in Washington, and across the country.
April Clayton is the part owner of Red Apple Orchards, president of the Chelan/Douglas County Farm Bureau and serves on the Wenatchee Valley College Foundation board.