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Editorial: Virus emergency shows need for increased focus on rural broadband

Editorial: Virus emergency shows need for increased focus on rural broadband

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Nebraska leaders have long identified the lack of reliable, high-quality Internet access in the state’s rural communities as a major concern. Now the pandemic has made it even more imperative to address the problem.

It was already known that about 37% of rural Nebraskans lack access to high-speed broadband service. World-Herald reporting last year described how some rural Nebraska parents drive considerable distances to park outside public libraries after hours so their children can use the WiFi to complete their homework.

The arrival of the virus emergency this year has made dependable online connectivity even more essential. Many Nebraska adults had to work from home. Schools had to switch abruptly to remote learning.

A bill before the Legislature can help. Legislative Bill 996, by State Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, can boost the state’s chances of getting a share of $20.4 billion the Federal Communication Commission will distribute nationwide to strengthen rural broadband availability. LB 996 would make major improvements in Nebraska’s method for assessing the broadband need in rural areas, a step important in winning FCC consideration. LB 996 is on final reading and deserves approval into law.

Some states are considering using part of their federal coronavirus relief funds to address rural broadband needs, such as extending broadband availability to rural public libraries lacking it. That’s an option Nebraska state officials would do well to consider too.

Nebraska must do all it can to see that the state’s rural residents have access to broadband technology that’s an increasingly important part of modern life.

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