Broadband’s New World

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In August 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus set sail in the name of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in search of a sea route to the riches of Asia. On October 12, 1492, he landed instead in the Americas and thus opened the New World for Western exploration and settlement.

We all know this story, and so we observe Columbus Day every second Monday of October.

Columbus undertook his momentous voyage in three small ships across a vast ocean to seek new economic opportunities. Today, we can pursue that same goal without leaving our homes or businesses. The instrument of exploration in our time is reliable Internet access.

Just as Columbus had to rove among the monarchies of Europe to obtain financial support for his expedition, however, the funding for broadband can be hard to come by. Rural areas in particular often lag in broadband investment.

Recent federal funding announcements will help Southwest Virginia close the gap.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development announced two on October 7. Scott County Telephone Cooperative received $3 million to upgrade current broadband infrastructure in the Dungannon area, and Grundy-based iGo Technology received $3 million to enhance broadband services to an additional 820 homes and businesses.

Rural Development’s support can be critical for rural broadband improvements. That is why I wrote letters of support for both projects, and why I hosted a workshop with the agency on October 9 in Abingdon to help economic development officials navigate the process of applying for funding.

Other agencies also contribute to broadband in our area. On October 10, the Federal Communications Commission authorized $23,979,453 over ten years to Sunset Digital Communications for building out gigabit-speed broadband to 6,998 locations in Southwest Virginia.

Nearly $40 million in one week will go a long way, but more needs to be done.

Columbus may have been guided in his first voyage by a map of the world that included Asia, Africa, and Europe, but not the Americas which lay in his path, contributing to his lifelong insistence that he had reached the Indies in 1492.

We also have problems with inaccurate maps; namely, those which fail to show the true state of broadband coverage. Some areas are considered to have broadband service if only one house in its census block is served. This leaves many gaps.

Accurate mapping is required to get the most out of investment in broadband. RAY BAUM’S Act, legislation written in the House Energy and Commerce Committee I serve on and signed into law last year, included provisions to improve data collection. Going forward, the Federal Government must ensure that its provisions are being implemented effectively.

Broadband expansion may never be honored with a national holiday like Columbus Day, but it will open a new world of economic opportunity that lies out there.

Health Care

Health care is a concern that touches everyone, but for professionals in the sector, it is a true livelihood.

To better represent my constituents and fulfill my duties on the House Subcommittee on Health, I often visit health care facilities in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District and hear from the people who work there. I made three such stops during the October district work period.

One is a new facility. Ballad Health has opened an urgent care center in Pennington Gap. It was an important step for Lee County, which has not had a hospital open since 2013. As I told those gathered at the ribbon cutting, you have to crawl before you can sprint. I am optimistic Lee County will be sprinting soon with a new hospital next year.

I also stopped by the Wythe County Community Hospital and met with the heads of the various departments. During our hour-long discussion, I learned a lot from them, and I reviewed health policy discussions ongoing in Washington, D.C.

My third health care stop was at Clinch Valley Medical Center in Richlands, where I talked with the staff and saw interesting medical equipment they had on site.

The information and perspectives I gained from these stops will be invaluable as I continue to work on health policy in the House.

For questions, concerns, or comments, contact the Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, Washington office at 202-225-3861, or via email at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.