Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, told a large NRECA Broadband gathering that he knows the importance of high-speed internet to rural communities, how fast the technology advances and the role Congress must play in ensuring people served by electric cooperatives are not left behind when billions of dollars flow to bridge the digital divide.
“Broadband is not a Republican issue; it’s not a Democratic issue; it’s not an independent issue,” Latta told the exclusive breakfast Tuesday at NRECA’s 2023 Legislative Conference. “It’s everybody’s issue, and that’s why it’s important that we get the job done.”
Latta chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, where NRECA will bring electric co-op perspectives on broadband regulatory permitting reform and pole attachment issues in a hearing Wednesday.
With the fast pace of broadband technology development, Latta said his committee must look far ahead when legislating rules and regulations.
“We have to make sure we are getting the laws right,” he said. “This is going to affect people, [and] technology is changing so rapidly.”
Oversight of the new $42 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will be “very important to us,” said Latta, whose district includes several electric co-ops. The goal will be to avoid excessive fees and delays in building rural broadband projects, he said.
“We want to make sure we get that done so American families can get reliable internet,” he said. “We have to make sure we get it done in the least expensive manner.”
Latta also emphasized the importance of having accurate broadband coverage maps for allocating billions of federal dollars to unserved areas.
He noted how significant high-speed connectivity has become since the pandemic, with telehealth now the norm and school children expected to do their homework online. Many small towns and communities, however, remain challenged.
“We need to make sure we have broadband out there so our kids can compete,” Latta said. “We want to make sure people who live in rural areas can live there and survive.”
NRECA Broadband launched last year and has gained nearly 100 electric cooperative and statewide association members that receive exclusive services, benefits and access to events that support their efforts to deploy high-speed internet. For more information, contact Brian O’Hara, NRECA senior regulatory affairs director, or Katie Culleton, NRECA legislative affairs director.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.
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NRECA CEO: Reliable Electricity Is Main Focus of Legislative Conference