Now that President Biden has enacted the infrastructure bill, pundits are wondering if this victory will increase its political value. A better question is, “How can Delaware make sure this victory lifts vulnerable families in our state?” “
Biden’s bipartisan bill will keep its promises $ 1.425 billion in Delaware, money that can be used to repair 19 bridges and over 250 miles of bad highway. The bill also provides $ 100 million for the deployment of broadband in our state, along with millions more to help low-income residents secure fast, reliable Internet access.
In the 21st century, this broadband infrastructure is arguably just as important as the physical infrastructure we use to get to work. Over the past couple of years, we’ve all seen how essential the internet can be when it comes to helping our kids complete their homework, showing up for work even when we’re far away, protecting our access to healthcare professionals, to stay in touch with our families and friends, and to ensure that the state government continues to serve the Delawaren during a crisis.
To me, it’s not partisan politics or abstract politics – it’s personal. As a mother of three – a premature born and diagnosed with cerebral palsy – I know universal broadband connectivity means every family will have uninterrupted access to education, including special needs programs, and world-class healthcare professionals through telehealth.
Achieving the goal of universal connectivity will require careful planning, as well as expert execution.
Our first challenge is to bring broadband to every small town street and every rural route. According to the FCC, at least 15,000 Delawarens still do not have broadband service available where they live. Leaning on Governor John Carney visionary rural broadband program, this new injection of federal dollars will ensure that we can build broadband networks to ensure that broadband is available everywhere. No exceptions. No excuses.
We have all the funds we need to get the job done, as long as we prioritize cabling in unserved areas over places that already have broadband.
But cabling unserved areas, important as it is, is not our most difficult challenge. On 98% of Delaware communities are already wired for broadband – but about 24% of Delaware residents are still not connected.
Why not? And what can we do about it?
With 11.8% of Delawarens living in poverty before the pandemic – including 26% in Wilmington and 24.4% in Dover – some families did not subscribe to broadband because they could not afford it, even at heavily reduced prices broadband providers provide low income customers.
But the Infrastructure Bill’s Affordable Connectivity (ACP) program effectively removes monthly subscription costs as a barrier to connecting. Some 200,000 low-income Delawaren – 21% of our population – will be eligible for an allowance of up to $ 30 per month to purchase broadband service from their choice of providers.
This means that home broadband service can be obtained essentially free of charge for families earning up to double the federal poverty line. As more unconnected families discover and enroll in this transformative agenda, it will go a long way to bridge the digital divide, which is both a cause and an effect of racial, ethnic and economic inequalities.
But rebates and subsidies alone will not be enough to bring all broadband laggards online. Unfortunately, research shows 71% of adults not connected say they’re just not interested in signing up. The problems: a lack of confidence in large institutions, from government to business; bitter experience with other offers that turned out to be “too good to be true”; and not knowing why and how to go online.
We must approach these challenges the same way we approach voter registration and immunization campaigns, as well as the difficult day-to-day work of the constituent services during recent medical and economic emergencies.
It means beating the sidewalks, going door-to-door, person-to-person to showcase how broadband connections can change the lives of families. We need to motivate and mobilize community leaders that people know and trust – clergy, educators, small business owners, PTA leaders, civic groups, and civil rights organizations.
Based on our lived experience, parents like me can explain how broadband connections open up opportunities, from special education to online medical consultations.
And to deliver on the promise of universal connectivity, our schools must teach digital literacy.
While we should get started now, we should also embark on a sustained organizing plan, knowing that it can take years for everyone to be connected. As huge and historic as the infrastructure program is, the bipartisan ceremonies and social media victory towers are the easy part. Connecting and connecting unconnected families will take hard work in the long run.
Let’s get started. And let’s do it right.
State Senator Nicole Poore (D-New Castle / Bear) chairs the Senate Capital Improvement Committee.