Congress looking to expand broadband to rural parts of the country


WASHINGTON, D.C. (ABC News) – Millions of Americans have a hard time getting things done on the web every day without high-speed internet. Lawmakers are working to change that.

“These areas are just like a third world country . They just don’t have the service available” said Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative Director of Operations, Engineering and Technology Dan Stelpflug.

Nearly 19 million Americans live in areas without access to high-speed internet. In parts of rural America, nearly a quarter of homes aren’t connected.

“They can’t thrive in this day and age,” Stelpflug said. “They need access to broadband so they can have access to tele-medicine, telemetric farmers have access to markets”

The federal government is trying to fix the problem, offering grants to companies like Stelpflug’s to help build networks in small communities.

According to a new Microsoft study, the problem is the FCC’s current coverage maps miscounts millions of Americans who don’t have internet, meaning money isn’t getting to some of the areas where it’s needed most.

“It’s surprising that in this day and age the mapping isn’t more accurate,” Stelpflug said.

At a Tuesday hearing, Stelpflug urged lawmakers and the FCC to fix coverage maps to ensure every home is counted. They plan to publish that report in August.

“We would love to have these maps be accurate and have the money available to build the infrastructure,” Stelpflug said.

The FCC chairman agrees the maps need work and announced an effort to find better ways of counting homes without broadband.

Iowa Democrat Representativ Abby Finkenaur says if the FCC doesn’t come up with a solution, Congress will.

“It’s great that FCC understands that this is an issue, but it’s not enough just take their word for it,” she said. “We do actually have to take these steps to make sure that states like Iowa aren’t left behind.”

Lawmakers are debating several plans to force the FCC to change its practices before grant money gets distributed nationwide.

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