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Internet access is important. To underserved communities, it's vital to their success | Opinion

Reform is needed to meet the broadband connectivity needs of Black women and families in unserved communities.

Article in Tennessean By: Karen Camper, Tennessee House Democratic Leader

July 15, 2021 - Many of us can’t imagine a life without our cell phones and access to the internet. The fact of the matter is that many of us cannot function without our devices.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the need to rely even more on broadband connections to support our educational, economic, and healthcare needs. It’s hard to imagine the post-pandemic world without the ability to conduct business meetings, healthcare appointments, parent-teacher conferences and daily activities such as curbside grocery pickups online.

Little conveniences in life go a long way and specifically for women and families with children. The ability to order groceries online and grab them on the way home from work or join meetings remotely after picking up kids from school is truly life-changing. Without access to the internet, these necessary and essential tasks would not be possible.

Every American needs internet access

While broadband is a necessity, it is unfortunately considered a luxury as there are many communities who continue to lack access to broadband. Internet connection is a necessary tool to support the quality of life for Black women and their families.

Access to affordable broadband is an obstacle the government should address to improve the quality of life for vulnerable communities.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 24% of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year say they don’t own a smartphone. 43% of adults with lower incomes do not have home broadband services—41% don't have a desktop or laptop computer.

A majority of Americans with lower incomes are not tablet owners. With little to no options for broadband, 27% of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year are smartphone-only internet users, meaning the only way they are able to get online at home is with their smartphone.

While scrolling through Twitter and reading the news can easily be done on a smartphone, completing school assignments and applying for jobs is not.

More can be done for underserved communities.

In 2016, the FCC began offering broadband support under the Lifeline program to families in need. However, a $9.25 per month subsidy is woefully insufficient to get internet access to those who don’t have the means to pay for broadband.

Additionally, families must choose to use this subsidy for either their cell phone or home broadband connection and unfortunately, it’s a hard choice as both these services have become essential in the post-pandemic world.

Reform is needed to meet the broadband connectivity needs of Black women and families in unserved communities. Black women have suffered disproportionate economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to provide support is more critical than ever. 

NOBEL Women ratified a resolution late last year that called upon Congress to create an enhanced broadband benefit program for low-income households that would build upon prior efforts to close the digital divide.

We applaud U.S. Congress establishing the Emergency Broadband Benefit, EBB, program to support families and households struggling to afford Internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This program has been immensely beneficial for single mothers and their families. Unfortunately, the EBB program is only temporary and the needs of vulnerable communities will remain even after the COVID-19 pandemic.

As stated in our resolution, Congress should create an enhanced long-term broadband benefit program for low-income households and modernize distribution of benefits. Congress must take bold action now to permanently close the digital divide.

Democratic Caucus Leader and State Representative Karen Camper, D-Memphis, has been a member of the Tennessee General Assembly since 2008. She is a veteran of the United States Army and serves as chair of the Women's Legislative Caucus, co-chair of the Veteran's Legislative Caucus, and is the National President of the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, or NOBEL Women. 

View Article here.

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