As we start this new year, we cannot ignore the 19 million Americans who lack internet access. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of universal broadband in economic growth and recovery. In the 21st century, internet access is an indispensable means to work from home, pursue education, and to communicate with our friends and family. Everyone must have access to this critical technology, especially during this crisis.
ILF strives to promote the economic effectiveness of the AAPI community – every year, we host an exciting business and leadership conference which includes a Global Strategic Economic Forum and Business to Business matchmaking. At 20 million strong, Asian Americans are a powerful economic force: nearly two million Asian American–owned small businesses generate $700 billion in annual GDP and employ around 3.5 million people. Yet, COVID-19 has illuminated ways in which Asian Americans have been disproportionately affected – unemployment rates among Asian Americans increased by more than 450 percent during the public health crisis.
As a vibrant economic powerhouse, the recovery of AAPI businesses will be essential in the revival of the economy in the country as a whole. To help AAPI and other minority businesses recover from the economic downturn of the pandemic, we urge Congress and the FCC to expedite and build on universal broadband initiatives. Expanding universal broadband to more Americans means small business owners will have access to the necessary digital infrastructure needed to participate in e-commerce, apply to relief programs, and compete in an increasingly global—and digital—marketplace. In order to give businesses the tools they need to thrive, universal broadband access is key.
We also take pride in preparing over thousands of AAPI college students nation-wide to become leaders in the public, business, academic, community, and professional fields. That is why the increasingly expanding “homework gap”, heightened by the pandemic, is alarming. An estimated 124,000 public and private K-12 schools and at least 55 million students are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – with the gap noticeably more pronounced among minority communities. A survey found that roughly 1 in 10 AAPI Americans do not have ready access to computers and broadband. Equally important to broadband connectivity, we urge policymakers to enact comprehensive legislation to expand broadband adoption efforts such as digital literacy and affordability to help students access the devices and reliable connectivity they need to unlock their leadership potential.
COVID-19 has alerted us to the need, more than ever, to ensure that AAPIs and other communities of color have access – and affordable options – to the digital resources they need. A new year, and new Administration, presents a new opportunity for our government leaders to reinvest and update existing programs to make broadband more accessible, affordable and sustainable. The pandemic has shown that it is not economically feasible for market forces and private companies to do it alone. It is time for Congress to take swift and bold actions to ensure the economic and educational success of all Americans.