Article in The Buffalo News By Sarah Robinson
August 27, 2021 - The Covid-19 pandemic cast a glaring light on America’s digital divide. Those able to transition to remote work and shepherd children through the challenging demands of remote schooling were able to navigate the crisis. Those who lacked the proper equipment and affordable internet access struggled to meet the new, virtual reality.
Working families who may have seen home internet as a luxury found that it was an essential utility, necessary for their children’s educations, access to health care and other needed services.
While being without broadband may seem the same as being without water or electricity to some, 19 million Americans – 6 percent of the population – lack access to the internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission. To help these and others left behind by the digital divide, Congress allocated $3.2 billion in stimulus funds to create the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program.
Households that meet the requirements are eligible for a discount of up to $50 or more per month off their monthly internet bill. More than 4 million eligible households have already taken advantage of this crucial subsidy program, and more than 1,110 broadband providers have agreed to take part in the EBB.
The benefits of affordable broadband access, particularly for historically disadvantaged communities, are well-documented. Education becomes more accessible, geographic barriers to medical care are reduced, seniors can live independently more easily, and employment opportunities spread, according to Speedmatters.org.
As some of the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic begin to recede, we must not forget this lesson. A sustainable, permanent broadband subsidy is in all consumers’ interests. Fortunately, the bipartisan infrastructure deal recently passed by the Senate allocates $14.2 billion for a modified program called the Affordable Connectivity Program. The ACP will provide a $30 monthly broadband benefit to eligible households, which includes those 200% below the federal poverty line and to those participating in WIC. While we would have preferred the ACP to be based on non-discretionary funding, it is an important first step in putting a lasting dent in the digital divide. The House of Representatives must follow the Senate’s example and pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal. Life is slowly returning to a new normal, and it is clear that many aspects of everyday life will remain online even after the pandemic is behind us. We need to ensure every American has the tools to fully participate in this new reality.