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Aderholt pushes for CARES fund flexibility to improve rural broadband

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, on Friday released a statement after leading a bipartisan Congressional letter with Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, to House and Senate leadership urging them to take immediate and necessary actions regarding rural broadband funding from the CARES Act.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on the unacceptable reality of rural broadband in America,” Aderholt said. “I have been fighting to solve this problem for years, and while we have made lots of progress, there is still a long way to go. To be clear, this issue is far from new, but we are in a time now when access to high speed, reliable broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. For America to thrive we must not leave rural communities behind in a digital divide.”

Aderholt said it is “high time we get rural broadband done.”

“That’s why I am leading a letter to House and Senate leadership urging that CARES Act funds be eligible for permanent rural broadband infrastructure and that Congress provides additional time for the buildout of new infrastructure,” Aderholt said. “Currently, state and local governments can only spend CARES funds on temporary broadband solutions. I believe it’s necessary to invest in permanent broadband solutions so we can meet immediate needs caused by the continued COVID disruption. To me, this is a no brainer, and the bipartisan support for this issue is evident from my colleagues across the aisle who joined me in sending this letter. We all know that rural America deserves solid broadband, and I will continue to fight for this issue until it is done.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey joined Aderholt in calling on Congressional leadership to take action.

“Improving access to broadband across Alabama has long been a priority of my Administration, and with the support of the Legislature, we have taken steps forward,” Ivey said. “However, when this pandemic hit and as many Alabamians worked remotely from their homes for both work and school, the need for greater connectivity in Alabama was highlighted even more. I urge Congress to provide flexibility in funding for states to be able to implement a permanent solution for our broadband infrastructure. I thank Congressman Aderholt and the other members of our House delegation for continuing to fight on this important issue.”

Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, had advocated for using a large part of the $1.9 billion the state received in CARES Act funding for the expansion of rural broadband, but limitations on how that money can be spent have thwarted much of those efforts.

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“I would like to thank Representative Aderholt and the other members of the Alabama delegation for their diligent work on this effort in the House of Representatives,” Marsh said. “Alabama is fortunate to have a representation in Congress that understands that Broadband connectivity in today’s world is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. I look forward to continuing to work with our delegation as we push for greater broadband accessibility for families across the state.”

Alabama’s schoolchildren return to classes this week, but half the systems are opening with online classes only. Most of the rest are offering an online e-learning option in lieu of attending risky in-person classes and possibly being exposed to the coronavirus.

Many students lack the necessary broadband connection speed in their communities to fully benefit from the online classes. Similarly millions of people are getting their medical help via online doctor’s visits.

President Donald Trump recently passed executive orders greatly expanding telehealth services paid for by Medicare and the VA. Many Alabamians, particularly in rural areas, however, still lack broadband connections to benefit from telehealth services.

Aderholt represents the people of Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He is seeking his 13th term in the U.S. House of Representatives in November. Aderholt has been a very vocal advocate for federal funds to advance rural broadband.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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