WASHINGTON, Sep. 28, 2017 – Congressional Democrats held a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday to highlight their $40 billion plan to bring high-speed internet service to all Americans.

As part of the plan – a key part of the party’s new economic agenda, “A Better Deal” – internet providers would compete for network expansion projects, and private companies, co-ops and local governments could apply for grants. The initiative also calls for an upgrade of the nation’s critical safety infrastructure, most importantly, the aging 9-1-1 system, to make sure essential digital information can be relayed seamlessly from citizens to first responders.

The lawmakers, including Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that over 34 million Americans, including 23 million who live in rural areas, do not have internet service available to them at adequate speed and quality. Also speaking were Senators Jon Tester of Montana, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, as well as Representatives Terri Sewell of Alabama, Rick Nolan of Minnesota, Ann Kuster of New Hampshire, and Cheri Bustos of Illinois.

“When we talk about a ‘better deal’ for small towns and rural America, when we talk about moving forward in the 21st century, you have to start by making sure rural America is connected, like every other part of our state and our economy,” Stabenow said. “People in small towns and in rural America need to know we have their back.”

The lawmakers all told stories of people being held back by the lack of quality broadband service – students trying to get into college, farmers hoping to use the new precision technologies, business people planning to expand. “Their futures,” Stabenow said, “should be determined by the size of their dreams, not by the distance to a decent internet connection.”

Also participating in the news conference, by Skype, was Dr. David Charles, medical director of Vanderbilt Telehealth in Tennessee, which relies on high-speed internet to bring health care to patients in rural community hospitals. He described a situation that happened just last night in which a patient suffering stroke symptoms was brought to one of the 50 hospitals in the Vanderbilt network.

“One of our neurologists, via telemedicine, was able to go into that emergency room, over connectivity just like we’re using right here, help that emergency room doctor evaluate the patient and make treatment decisions that really helped that stroke from occurring.

“Telehealth like that has been around for a while, and it rides on the backbone of broadband access,” he said. “So, to take the next step, we need broadband access in every person’s home, in every school, in every small business…. We have to be able to reach (people) when needed to provide care for chronic conditions such as heart failure, diabetes and cancer.”


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