By Chris Roberts / For the herald
A few days before my mom died of complications from covid-19, a very nice helper was able to hold a device so I could see her and talk to her. The ability to see and interact with her for months with the assisted living facilities closed certainly didn’t make up for the inability to hug or kiss her on the cheek, but technology has made it the situation more bearable.
For our child, school was an entirely virtual affair during the previous school year; and even today, most interactions with friends are done online. For my wife and I, we teach classes entirely online, with students taking our American Politics classes all over the world. Without access to a high-speed internet connection, our work and social life would not be possible.
I admit we are lucky. We are on one side of the digital divide in our country and even in our state. As we saw during the pandemic, children tried to access it by sitting outside trying to get an internet signal. And frequently, we are in meetings where one of our colleagues has to leave Zoom because of a bad connection.
About 44% of Americans who earn less than $ 30,000 a year don’t have internet at home – not because they don’t want it, or because the infrastructure to connect doesn’t exist where they are. they live – but because they can’t afford it. This means that while high-speed internet is needed for everything from basic health care to job training, schooling, and even religious commitments, millions of people do not have access to it, even though providers Internet service providers offer entry plans of $ 10 to $ 20 per month. The numbers are worse for people of color whose households are even less likely to have broadband at home, threatening to leave black, native and colored Americans further behind.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act tackles broadband affordability head-on with $ 14 billion in federal funding for a revolutionary program called Affordability Connectivity Benefit (ACB) that will provide eligible households with a benefit of $ 30 per month that would go to their Internet bills. We know this program will help people because it builds on an already very successful program that was part of pandemic assistance; and has already put more than 4.5 million homes online.
Furthermore, the infrastructure bill provides for funding of $ 2.75 billion for digital equity; programs designed to reach vulnerable communities that have traditionally had low internet adoption rates – including older Americans and low-income families – to teach them digital literacy skills and teach them how to use the internet. Too often, well-meaning government programs fail to reach the people they are meant to help. But bringing affordability and adoption programs into the infrastructure bill will make a real difference. This proposal not only provides the resources to connect everyone to the internet, but it also makes real investments in ensuring that the people who need it are made aware of its existence and learn how to make the most of it.
In addition to funding broadband accessibility and digital equity, the bill prioritizes expanding broadband infrastructure to truly unserved areas – primarily rural and tribal communities – to which high speed internet has been promised for far too long. Because rural communities often have lower per capita incomes, this bill will particularly help poor rural communities who typically lack the infrastructure and resources to connect; by providing both.
If we are to bridge the digital divide, the House must pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, already passed by the Senate. This alone would put millions of low-income people online permanently by creating a long-term program they can count on to help pay for broadband access and by building the know-how in communities traditionally. marginalized to use it. The federal government provides financial assistance for groceries, school meals, housing and health care. By creating a program that will help 25% of the country pay for broadband, the infrastructure bill demonstrates a clear commitment that high-speed internet is just as essential in daily life as food, healthcare. health and housing. This is why groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Urban League have launched a call for proposals that are reflected in the bill on infrastructure that helps low-income people access this essential service and ensure that everyone has the necessary digital infrastructure and skills to connect.
I was on my way to the airport when I got the call saying my mother had passed away. I wish I had had more time with her, but I’m grateful that I was able to connect with her virtually and see her as she said her last words of “goodbye” to me.
Chris Roberts sits on Shoreline City Council.