Closing the rural broadband gap is an urgent national crisis

US map of broadband usage by state

It’s been clear to us for some time that the digital divide in this country is an urgent national crisis that must be solved. Since 2017, we’ve been working with internet service providers to do just that, through our Airband Initiative, and we’re on track to cover 3 million Americans in unserved rural areas by 2022.

It’s encouraging to see this issue rise in national prominence, through funding from the administration, congressional legislation and most recently new proposals introduced by several candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. While there’s been some progress already, solving the broadband gap will require active engagement as well as effective policy proposals from all parts of the public sector.

It’s time to recognize that inequal access to broadband translates into inequality of opportunity. People in rural areas that lack broadband face higher unemployment rates, see fewer job and economic opportunities and place children from these communities behind their suburban and peers in school. Of course, this is not just a rural issue – broadband deserts exist within very urban areas as well, where costs can be unaffordable and availability non-existent.

To be sure, there are efforts underway to provide the funding and assistance needed to expand broadband coverage for rural areas, by the administration, Congress, governors and the private sector, including Microsoft and our Airband partners. But much more needs to be done to translate proposals into action.

That’s why we’re at the Iowa State Fair this week as well. Microsoft is hosting a booth, where we’ll learn from Iowans about their digital realities, discuss what we can do through the Airband Initiative to help and what other opportunities can be unlocked with reliable, affordable broadband access. We hope to discuss the issue with political leaders attending the fair as well.

Solving the broadband gap should be a national issue because we are leaving millions of Americans behind. We look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to make meaningful progress on this important national issue.

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