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Many Americans can't get high-speed internet but Trump and Congress want to change that


Many Americans can't get high-speed internet but Trump and Congress want to change that

WATCH | Believe it or not, lots of Americans still use dial-up internet because they can't get access to high-speed broadband. But President Trump and members of both parties in Congress want to change that by investing in America's broadband infrastructure. 

What is broadband? 

The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as an internet connection with 25 megabits per second download speeds. About 10 percent of Americans don't have access to that kind of broadband, and those living in rural areas are hardest hit. 

About 39 percent of people living in rural areas don't have high-speed internet, and that's really hurting education and the economy in those towns. 

Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR, an economic development agency in Eastern Kentucky has encountered dozens of people at listening sessions who say poor internet access is their biggest problem

"We had one lady who said that, 'I'm having to take my daughter every evening to McDonald's to get WiFi so she can do homework and research,'" Arnett told Circa. 

Arnett says he's heard from other Eastern Kentuckians who say they may have to move just to get faster and affordable internet connection. 

Poor internet access creates big problems for people searching for jobs in rural areas. Families who moved to areas with booming industrial and manufacturing economies are now struggling to keep up in the modern tech economy. 

"It used to be, 'are you on a railroad track? Are you near an interstate or highway?'" said Steven Berry, President, and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association. 

"Right now, it's 'do you have broadband capability?'" Berry said. 

Broadband investment

Now, President Trump and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Congress are hoping to fix America's digital divide. 

In his budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, Trump called on Congress to set aside roughly $200 billion for infrastructure investments, which includes expanding broadband. 

Many lawmakers, state officials and others working on broadband expansion praised the move as a step in the right direction. 

"I'm excited to see that it was included in the language. I don't think that's always been the case in the past," Arnett said. 

Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn said Trump's proposal would encourage state and local officials and private investors already working on a broadband expansion. 

"They're going to look at this and go, 'you know what? He's really serious about this, there is going to be money in the pipeline and help on the way,'" Blackburn said. 

Democrats are on board with broadband investment, earlier this month House Democrats released their own $85 billion infrastructure bill that includes $40 billion just for broadband expansion. 

But not all Democrats agree with Trump's broadband budget proposal. Some, like Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow argue that Trump's plan doesn't add up because his budget also calls for deep cuts to agencies like the Department of Agriculture and Energy which have supported broadband expansion projects.

"The problem is that overall rural development takes a huge cut," Stabenow told Circa. 

Other experts are concerned that even with the boost in federal funding the people who need it the most won't be able to get it because of a lack of federal data on broadband accessibility. 

"They're going to make billions of dollars of decisions on how we can best provide broadband to rural, urban markets, and it's based on what, I think is faulty and incorrect data," Berry said.

In the end, Congress will decide how much money is set aside for broadband expansion, but experts say the proposal is a step in the right direction.

"We truly believe that broadband is as important to the future of this economic region as water and sewer was 20 years ago," Arnett said. 

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