Congress Needs to Seal the Deal on Universal Broadband
Congress is just one vote and one signature away from delivering once-in-a-generation infrastructure investments that can make universal broadband a reality. In a broadly bipartisan 69-30 vote, the Senate approved an infrastructure package containing $65 billion in funding to improve internet access, broadband affordability, and digital literacy. ILF applauds the Senate for supporting our universal connectivity goals, and we now urge the House of Representatives – and President Biden – to swiftly approve the proposal.
Over the course of the past year, ILF has been calling on Congress to ensure AAPIs and other communities of color have access to a wide array of affordable digital resources, including broadband. As we all have witnessed or experienced during COVID-19, the digital divide in the AAPI community puts at risk our recent achievements. These include AAPI businesses who have expanded into e-commerce, AAPI students who furthered their education online, and so much more.
While the list is long and varied, the root of many of these achievements is short and simple: broadband. ILF believes broadband can unlock all the talent and potential of the AAPI and other minority communities across the country. We were inspired to see the Senate recognize this transformative opportunity and act decisively.
Altogether, the Senate-passed infrastructure bill contains $65 billion in broadband funding, $42.45 billion of which will go toward deploying broadband infrastructure and get at connecting the nearly 19 million Americans who lack internet access.
The bill goes beyond just building new towers and laying fiber by addressing the very real challenges of broadband affordability and digital literacy that keep even those with internet access offline. Over $14 billion are included to make the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, now named the Affordable Connectivity Program, permanent. This program would provide a $30 monthly voucher for eligible low-income households to purchase an internet plan that fits their needs. These funds will go a long way in bridging the affordability gap, especially among the roughly 1 in 10 AAPI Americans who do not have ready access to computers and broadband.
Lastly, the bill meets the needs of a segment AAPI community – and the broader population – who have access to broadband, can afford it, but lack the digital literacy skills to unlock the full potential of the internet. Roughly $2.75 billion in funding will go towards creating programs that promote digital equity and digital inclusion, effectively enabling individuals to gain the skills they need to participate in an always-on digital world.
The Senate-passed infrastructure bill is not perfect, as no proposal can ever be, yet the broadband investments for deployment, affordability, and literacy are transformative. It took the Senate months of careful collaboration and deliberation to reach an outcome that gets at both closing the digital divide and putting the power of the internet into everyone’s hands. Now is the time for the House of Representatives and President Biden to take what the Senate has given them and seal the deal.