On June 25, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and a bipartisan coalition of 11 governors sent a letter urging the president and congressional leaders to make critical investments to close the digital divide. The letter opened with thanking the president and leaders for the economic stimulus passed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the group acknowledged that there is still more work to be done from an infrastructure standpoint.
“The critical need for high-speed internet has become clear in light of our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as more families work and learn from home, businesses operate online services and patients access medical care through telehealth,” Wolf said in a statement on his website.
“It’s clear that this is more than a Pennsylvania issue – the digital divide exists in communities across the country,” Wolf said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest, especially as technology continues to evolve and advance, that we make a significant infrastructure investment.”
The governors noted in the letter that “we are gravely concerned about the compromised digital access that now threatens entire communities, and people’s livelihoods, educational access, quality of healthcare and lives.” The rural communities that lack broadband access, which include 14 million Americans, are particularly concerning to the state leaders. In Pennsylvania, nearly one million residents lack access to broadband connectivity, and Wolf has made access to high-speed internet a top priority.
The letter also stated that “broadband is not a luxury, but rather critical infrastructure that’s vitally important to our economic future and national security.” The letter cited a 2019 report — titled A Case For Rural Broadband — issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, using Deloitte data. The report estimated it would require “between $130 and $150 billion over the next five to seven years, to adequately support rural coverage and 5G wireless densification.” The governors asked for broadband investment to meet this challenge.
The letter stated that investment would “unleash economic potential, promote stable job growth… and ensure all businesses and families can participate in the digital economy.” The letter went on to note that this investment would aid in advances for healthcare, school children, businesses, agriculture and food production, and smart infrastructure deployment.
Wolf is also collaborating with Land O’Lakes President and CEO Beth Ford. The farmer-owned cooperative in Minnesota works with organizations across industries including agriculture, healthcare, finance, and tech to address connectivity. “We commend Governor Wolf and his fellow leaders for making this bipartisan call to action and for recognizing that our country simply cannot afford to allow the digital divide to widen,” Ford said.
The letter went on to state “it is time for the Rural Electrification Act of our generation.” The governors noted that they stand ready to partner with the president and Congressional leaders to ensure an efficient and effective strategy to quickly deploy these resources to bridge the digital divide.” Along with Pennsylvania, the letter was signed by the governors of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Kansas, and Washington.