Since Americans connect to the Internet, black and brown communities are less likely than our white neighbors to have broadband at home. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill offers the best chance we have ever had to finally close this digital divide.
The Senate bill passed with a large bipartisan majority earlier this month commits $ 65 billion to achieve the goal of universal broadband connectivity. This includes more than $ 40 billion to bring high-speed networks to unconnected rural areas, low-income apartment buildings, schools, libraries and health centers. And it also includes $ 14 billion to create an Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which will give low-income families up to $ 30 per month to buy home broadband.
Universal availability and universal accessibility. It’s the double punch that digital fairness advocates have been clamoring for for years.
First of all, the bipartite agreement must go through the House of Representatives.
Democratic leaders there have pledged to push forward the bipartisan infrastructure bill in tandem with a larger budget that includes vital investments in healthcare, child care, education and climate initiatives. These investments in âhuman infrastructureâ are key pillars of President Biden’s commitment to build back better.
But the longer the bipartisan infrastructure bill remains in limbo, the more it becomes a significant target for conservative critics desperate to deny Joe Biden a victory – and even for progressives who may not think compromise is hard. fought goes quite far. Already some progressives have threatened to play hard in hopes of renegotiating a better deal.
As well-intentioned as it is, this high-stakes legislative pool game could have dire consequences for marginalized communities. Simply put, low-income Americans and communities of color urgently need this bill to pass – and those who claim to represent us must join us and help push it through.
While 97% of Pennsylvanians have broadband available at home, only 73% actually sign up for an Internet service. ISPs have helped close this ‘adoption gap’ by offering a discounted service (around $ 10 per month) to low-income customers, but even these discounted prices are out of reach for millions of families living on meals. with meals.
This is why the infrastructure bill’s affordable connectivity program is a game-changer. It builds on the progress of private sector programs, while providing a monthly grant that effectively reduces the cost of Internet service to zero for any family earning up to twice the federal poverty line. According to the White House, 23% of Pennsylvanians – nearly 3 million people – will be eligible for this new benefit.
Interestingly, Biden’s initial infrastructure proposal in March did not include this idea of ââa low-income broadband subsidy. The ACP was only added to the bill after the tireless advocacy of civil rights leaders and their allies convinced the White House and the Senate that any ârural broadband planâ must also include solutions for low-income urban communities. After a pandemic that has highlighted how essential broadband has become for education, economic opportunity and access to healthcare, connectivity can no longer be considered a luxury.
Civil rights activists have also been successful in securing more than $ 2.5 billion for a grant program that will help local leaders and community organizers do the outreach, training and follow-up needed to bring non-Americans online. connected. Research has long shown that even offering free broadband service is not enough: those without the digital skills, language skills or interest in signing up easily will need a helping hand. . This bill guarantees that they will get it.
Biden is to be credited with listening to our community and building bipartisan support for a broadband plan that will finally, finally, give every American a chance to connect. Now Democrats in the House of Representatives must follow suit and pass this bill.
John Milligan is the past president of the Greater Norristown Chapter of the NAACP.