Access to affordable, reliable high speed internet is one civil rights. For those who remain on the wrong side of the digital divide, economic, educational and civilian opportunities for engagement are increasingly out of reach. The consequences of not being connected affect more than the households that remain offline; it has a ripple effect across the country, especially when it comes to our economic future.
But in an era where so many aspects of our lives depend on a high-speed Internet connection, a disproportionate number of blacks, Latinos, natives, low-income and rural people remain offline. Past efforts to seek out and center these communities have been lacking, and policies that have not focused on equality when addressing the digital divide have excluded marginalized communities from the benefits of broadband.
Before 2021 e.g. Livline was the only federal program that kept low-income households connected to vital voice and broadband services. However, it provides only a modest subsidy of $ 9.25 despite the fact that the price of a connection is significantly higher. In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the $ 20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to help connect unattended and underserved communities in the U.S. rural area. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the Agency allocated significant resources to implement networks based on inaccurate broadband cards and without a mandate to ensure that low-income households in these regions, which include color communities, could afford the services when they became available. .
Broadband policies that fail to create equity stop progress and hamper America’s ability to compete globally. We have the opportunity to help bridge the digital divide through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), an investment in broadband with the majority of the funds allocated to the 42.45 billion. Broadband equity program, access and implementation (BEAD) administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). All 56 states and territories have submitted declarations of intent for the BEAD program prior to today’s deadline. This shows that there is a meaningful commitment to connect communities across the country to broadband. BEAD prioritizes funding for broadband rollout in unattended and underserved locations, which will be identified when the FCC publishes updated maps for the fall determine where broadband is and is not available. The remaining BEAD funds can be used for broadband adoption, workforce development and other digital equity initiatives. It is imperative that we learn from past failures and address them all aspects of the digital divide through an equity lens, including accessibility, adoption and access to financial opportunities.
First, there is an urgent need for states to address broadband access along with broadband access. The nation was caught flat-footed during the Covid-19 public health crisis and can never afford to do so again. The aforementioned RDOF program did not include a requirement to meet the affordability needs of low-income families. In contrast, the BEAD program requires implementation projects to develop a low-cost solution, prioritizes proposals that improve affordability, and also requires states to have plans to address middle-class affordability.
In addition to the BEAD program, IIIA allocated $ 14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which helps low-income households through a $ 30 per month subsidy for broadband services and a one-time discount of up to $ 100 to buy a laptop, desktop or tablet. This grant can be used in combination with the Lifeline benefit. The IIIA is also allocating $ 2.75 billion more Act on digital equity funds that can be used for the broadband adoption effort. States should strongly consider building expertise by establishing a broadband adoption office or by building capacity in already established and heavily understaffed government broadband offices that focus primarily on broadband access. There should be dedicated staff who can evaluate and meet the different needs of non-adopters, including affordability, digital skills and privacy and security concerns. States should also work with trusted voices working on the ground in communities that need to be connected.