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Middle Mile Infrastructure Provides New Opportunities for Rural Broadband Deployment

Rep. Austin Scott (GA-08)

Rural broadband has become a popular issue in recent years, but to me, the lack of highspeed internet service is personal.

I represent a rural district and live in a community where gaining access to quality, highspeed broadband is difficult. This makes everything from teleworking, e-learning, and streaming my kids’ favorite cartoons or Georgia Bulldogs football games challenging. I am hardly alone. One in five Americans live in rural areas, with an estimated 19 million rural Americans lacking highspeed internet services.

However, this is much more than a quality of life issue for rural Americans. Lack of access to broadband creates challenges for public health and safety officials, local businesses, 21st century agriculture that feeds our country, and students who attend school or learn from home. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to invest in broadband infrastructure. Speeds to accommodate virtual meetings, telemedicine, smart technologies, e-commerce, and digital payments are vital to the growth and success of our rural areas.

In many instances, rural communities sit in-between areas with highspeed access. Scores of communities in my district fall into this category. What’s lacking is infrastructure to connect these rural areas to major service providers. “Middle mile” is a term used by the telecommunications industry to describe the network infrastructure that connects last mile (i.e., local) networks to highspeed network service providers, and this critical infrastructure is one area where we can build on successful programs to reach more Americans with broadband services.

These regional networks are often overlooked but are essential components to expanding rural connectivity. The best local broadband network cannot be fully utilized without sufficient capacity to move all its users’ aggregated data to and from the Internet backbone. Middle mile networks provide that connectivity to sparsely populated regions and ensure that rural residents can reach the services and information they need just like their urban and suburban counterparts.

The Broadband for Rural America Act will enable the Rural Utilities Service to make grants, loans, or loan guarantees to middle mile infrastructure projects. This will build upon my past work to connect communities through middle mile investments, and I look forward to the great opportunities it will create for rural Americans.

For me, all options are on the table when it comes to addressing the broadband needs of our rural communities. There is great opportunity for Republicans to continue championing policies that will bridge the digital divide, and I look forward to working with the Republican Conference, Leader McCarthy, and colleagues on the other side of the aisle to address this truly nonpartisan issue that impacts so many of our fellow Americans.

Congressman Austin Scott represents Georgia’s Eighth Congressional District and is a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee.