The 2017 decision by President Trump’s FCC to eliminate net neutrality protections directly harmed rural communities’ access to affordable Internet.

Eliminating net neutrality, which requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide equal access to the Internet, undermined years of progress to bring rural America into the digital age. Instead of creating barriers for rural communities to use high-speed Internet, Congress and the Administration should be working together to expand access to affordable rural broadband. Now that House Democrats have retaken the majority, I’m working to reinstate net neutrality and support hard-working rural Americans.

Rural communities were already at a disadvantage when the Trump Administration repealed net neutrality protections. Before net neutrality was eliminated, 39 percent of rural communities lacked access to high-speed Internet and 46 million rural households had only one Internet provider in their area. 

Without net neutrality protections, Internet providers can use their monopolies in rural communities to force customers to pay more to access the same content. These premiums will price rural residents out of the market and leave them behind as our society becomes increasingly dependent on digital technology.

Sadly, the elimination of net neutrality has also harmed rural farmers in communities like the North State. For example, nearly one-third of U.S. farmers use a mobile app called FarmLogs, which uses local Internet connections to streamline their operations and cut costs. It has helped small rural farms keep pace with their large industrial competitors and stay active in the marketplace. However, when net neutrality ended, it allowed Internet companies to charge small rural farmers large premiums to access this same information. This handicaps rural farmers and other small rural businesses which rely on the Internet to reach their customers and compete with larger urban-based corporations.

The repeal of net neutrality also impacts rural healthcare. Since 2010, 48 rural hospitals have closed and another 238 are at risk of closing. Without hospitals or clinics in their communities, many rural Americans have become dependent on telemedicine to gain easy access to state-of-the-art care. Without net neutrality, Internet companies can charge massive premiums to rural customers who depend on these services for their healthcare. You shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice access to essential healthcare services to live in a rural community, but the repeal of net neutrality has made that an unfortunate reality for thousands of rural Americans.

The repeal of net neutrality is a raw deal for rural America. As the representative for the rural North State, I want to ensure my constituents have access to high-speed Internet at the lowest possible cost. That’s why, this month, I helped introduce the Save the Internet Act, a bill to restore net neutrality and put consumers back in control of their online experience. I’m proud to stand with rural Americans and take decisive action to expand affordable rural broadband access.

It’s time for Congress to work for the people again and restore net neutrality protections for Americans.

(U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat from Fairfield, represents California’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Yuba, Sutter and Colusa counties.)

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