For a moment there, we thought hell must have frozen over.
But no, it’s true — for one rare occasion at least — Wisconsin Sens. Ron Johnson, a Republican, and Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, were on the same page for a change. Both are sponsors of legislation to boost resources for communities and businesses in rural and underserved areas to bring them up to speed on high-speed internet access.
The legislation, the Access Broadband Act, is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-N.M., with the two Wisconsin senators as co-sponsors. The bill would create a federal Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to streamline and standardize the application process for various federal programs that support broadband infrastructure.
Sen. Johnson said the issue is important to farmers, rural doctors and schools. “While the federal government has numerous programs dedicated to bridging the urban-rural digital divide, the bureaucracy can be confusing, create barriers for broadband providers, communities and small businesses who need access to these resources.”
The bill, he said, would “ultimately connect more Wisconsinites in today’s digital world.”
Baldwin echoed that, saying, “Our bipartisan legislation will better marshal our federal resources to help bring broadband access for all, no matter where you live in Wisconsin.”
Their consensus is refreshing in today’s hyper-partisan political climate — and we can only hope it leads to more instances of cooperation and finding common ground.
Their cause this time is a good one — increased connectivity for all Wisconsin residents and a reduction in the lack of high-quality internet access that leaves rural communities and underserved areas at a disadvantage and undercuts their ability to earn, learn and compete. It affects medical services, deprives students of tools to learn and hurts the ability of companies to compete and rural areas to attract new business.
It’s also reminiscent of a page out of Wisconsin history when in the post-Depression 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration to advance the extension of electric power to farms and rural areas. Rural electric cooperatives sprang up across the state, buoyed by federal loans, and the extension of electrical service made state farms more efficient and better able to produce goods for consumers in the state. In a span of just a decade and a half, 90 percent of America’s farms had electric service — compared to just one in six around 1930.
That same type of effort is needed now to increase the connectivity of rural and underserved areas and make sure they have the connectivity and high-speed internet access that is vital to their future success.