As the country continues to grapple with an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, millions of families and business owners are left with no choice but to conduct their lives and responsibilities remotely – away from offices, schools, and other social settings. Increasingly, our communities depend on internet access to connect with loved ones, attend online classes, video conference into office meetings, and manage businesses without putting themselves or others in harms way.
As important as connectivity is, the pandemic has shown that broadband accessibility and affordability eludes far too many households – and especially communities of color and rural Americans. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 18 million people lack broadband internet service across the U.S. today. Our leaders must address the growing digital divide to help people and businesses weather the negative economic impacts of the pandemic, and to give them access to the digital infrastructure they need to prosper in a post COVID-19 economy.
We are active participants in our community – more than half a million AAPI-owned employer firms in the United States – and take pride in positively contributing to America’s success as a global hub for talent, innovation, and growth. From hosting business and leadership conferences to offering competitive fellowship programs in the nation’s capital, ILF strives to promote the economic effectiveness of the AAPI community. That is why we urge Congress and the FCC to hasten their initiatives to make universal broadband a reality for more Americans.
The digital divide in our community – intensified by the COVID-19 crisis – jeopardizes, and in some cases has already back-pedaled, the economic advancements accomplished by AAPI-owned businesses. The scale of the looming crisis for all small businesses is unprecedented. According one report published in April of this year, “nearly 7.5 million small businesses may be at risk of closing permanently over the coming five months.” Small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy and often serve other important social functions in minority communities. Broadband connectivity will give these businesses a fair shot at adapting to a world of e-commerce and remote services.
We take pride in our core values and mission to develop the next generation of AAPI leaders in both the public and private sector. That is why the growing “homework gap” that accompanies the digital divide is so alarming. According to Pew, the homework gap is more pronounced for minority and low-income households, and 15% of U.S. households with school-aged children do not have a home broadband connection. If we want our communities to recover and emerge from this difficult time ready to succeed, we need to unlock all the talent and potential in AAPI and other minority communities across the country. Internet access is a necessary and important step toward meeting this goal.
What we need is swift and bold action. We commend Congress and FCC for their renewed push to provide the necessary tools and resources to expand broadband access and investment across the county, but more needs to be done – and soon. The pandemic has made clear that private investment on its own is not economically feasible and legacy government infrastructure funding initiatives have not properly filled in the gaps of the digital divide in America.
A vibrant, connected AAPI community can contribute to a swift economic recovery. Today’s economic hurdles can be offset with smart, responsible investment in our broadband infrastructure – a welcomed, and urgent, measure necessary for AAPI’s businesses and leaders to prosper now and in the future.