The annual Ole Miss Technology Summit, which took place in Oxford at the end of August, brings together leaders to discuss how science, technology, and innovation are shaping our state and nation’s future. I was a part of the inaugural event in 2016, and I have spoken at each successive meeting. The fourth summit was the largest and most impressive yet, and I was glad to join this time in my role as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

This Tech Summit brought Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, senior executives from companies like Comcast, NBC, DISH Network, and Google, and Ole Miss’s top researchers into the same room so that we could understand the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Mississippi has played an essential and historic role in technological progress, as I detailed in my remarks. The red glare of the Apollo 11 rocket engine that sent three men to the Moon in 1969 and transfixed hundreds of millions of people was first seen at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, where the Saturn V was tested.

Technology’s Promise

Ensuring that the promises of technology and connectivity are available to every American is among my top priorities. It starts with creating an economic environment where private companies work to close the digital divide between rural and urban areas. The day before the Tech Summit, Chairman Pai and I were in Fulton, Mississippi, to participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for Fulton Telephone Company’s “Fiber to the Home Initiative.” We helped test this new, high-speed connection, and it was a pleasure to witness a small part of the divide close before our eyes.

Furthering this effort requires Congress to work with the FCC to understand where broadband is available and where it is not. The maps the agency had been planning to use for this were based on sometimes faulty data, which would have resulted in overbuilding in some areas and no connectivity at all in others. The Commerce Committee recently passed legislation I sponsored called the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, which would require the FCC to improve its maps and provide the incentives to collect better data about broadband availability. The FCC understands this is a problem, and Chairman Pai is taking action through a new Digital Opportunity Data Collection program, which will incorporate feedback directly from the public.

As Internet services reach more rural Americans, it is vital that this country remain on the cutting edge of new technologies. That means winning the race to 5G – the next generation of broadband. This will open up new opportunities, create millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in economic growth, and allow for new uses of Internet services. For example, autonomous vehicles will soon move goods and people, saving time, money, and potentially thousands of lives as car crashes caused by human errors are taken out of the equation.

The Next Moonshot

The Ole Miss Tech Summit was not only about the leaders on stage. It was also about the students who just started classes and the young people across our state who will benefit from, use, and create their own new technologies. Some of these students presented during the summit, and it was encouraging to hear their ideas and their optimism.

The Apollo Program inspired my generation to think big and to be limited only by the power of our imaginations. Future generations have the same pioneering spirit, and I am working in Congress to ensure that they have the tools needed to make their moonshots.

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