Thune Highlights Value of Rural Broadband

April 9, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, submitted for the record the following prepared remarks at today’s “State of Rural Communications” Communications, Technology, and the Internet Subcommittee hearing:

Chairman Pryor, thank you and Ranking Member Wicker for working together on an ambitious agenda for the Communications Subcommittee and for leading things off with a hearing focused on rural America, something that is obviously very important to me.  

The Commerce Committee has several new members, and I know we will all benefit from an up-to-date look at today’s communications landscape. 

I do think, however, that the Committee could have been served well by also hearing from a satellite provider today. 

For many households, satellite is their only option for video and Internet services.

While satellite broadband has a reputation of being the option of last resort, my understanding is that a new generation of satellites may offer many Americans a competitive alternative to wired broadband choices.  

To tackle the so-called “digital divide,” we should seek to understand the entire communications experience in rural areas, and satellite is certainly part of that story. 

As the subcommittee begins its work, we have an opportunity to examine these critical issues from many angles.

For example, policymakers have spent a lot of time focusing on deploying networks in unserved areas, which is certainly very important, but I also think it is necessary for us to examine broadband adoption in rural communities. 

Census Bureau surveys show that nearly 60 percent of rural households not connected to the Internet say they either do not need it or it is too expensive; lack of availability is cited by less than 6 percent of rural non-adopters.     

But even when rural Americans see the benefit of the Internet, sometimes they still do not go online. 

In a recent survey of South Dakota farmers, 85 percent said that the Internet adds value to their agricultural operations but only 69 percent actually use the Internet. 

Even though these folks can get online to check commodities prices, pay bills, or research new agricultural products, they are choosing not to do so despite the acknowledged benefits. 

What is keeping these people off the Internet? And are the broadband adoption challenges in rural America unique from the issues seen in the big cities? We should explore the answers to those questions. 

Thanks to companies like CenturyLink, South Dakota is one of the national leaders in fiber deployment, ranking third amongst the states with nearly 70 percent availability according to the National Broadband Map. 

But the tremendous benefit of that kind of connectivity may be wasted if people aren’t taking advantage of it. 

I hope that the witnesses today will spend some time talking about the demand side of rural communications and that we further explore the actual experiences of rural broadband users in future hearings. 

Thank you.