Today, the U.S. Senate voted 69-30 to pass an infrastructure package that includes an estimated $65 billion broadband proposal designed to “bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American.” Public Knowledge commends the bipartisan group and the Biden administration for taking this important step to narrow the digital divide by funding more broadband deployment and working to make broadband affordable for everyone, but especially for low-income consumers.
This package invests heavily in closing the digital divide by providing funding to deploy networks in areas where they are lacking or are insufficient to meet consumers’ needs, including extending the affordability subsidy. Public Knowledge appreciates the bipartisan package’s inclusion of funding for digital equity and inclusion efforts, the call for eliminating digital redlining, and the requirement that providers that take federal funds provide a low-cost option to consumers.
The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, President and CEO of Public Knowledge:
“This infrastructure package makes great strides towards closing the digital divide by making broadband more available, and most importantly, more affordable, for millions of consumers across the country. The $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity benefit and the requirement that providers receiving deployment funding offer a low-cost option are just two provisions that will help many who cannot afford broadband to finally connect. Allowing states the freedom to select alternative providers — such as municipalities, utilities, and cooperatives — to offer service will help ensure consumers that lack robust broadband are finally connected. Funding for the Digital Equity Act will further help states to connect their communities and give people the skills they need to get online.
“Nevertheless, Congress and the administration will need to do more to fully close the digital divide. Although we are glad that the Affordable Connectivity fund has been extended, we are disappointed the low-income subsidy has been reduced to $30 a month. With this reduction, it will be critical for states to take this lower funding amount into account as they establish their low-cost option. Additionally, we will work to ensure that the Federal Communications Commission and Congress take all steps necessary to develop an effective permanent broadband subsidy for low-income households. To help connect low-income families, we need Congress to provide a dedicated federal device voucher program so low-income consumers can get the computers and tablets necessary to get online.
“The $42 billion is a significant investment in reaching unserved and underserved communities, but additional funding will be necessary to fully close the deployment gap. We will also need states and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure that the deployment funds available through this legislation prioritize projects that build future-proof networks that can add capacity over time. Most can agree that network demand will only increase, so we must build with decades of growth in mind, not incremental improvement.
“Moreover, it is imperative that the FCC focus on protecting the public interest as it executes on its charge to prevent digital redlining so we can connect everyone regardless of their income and skin color. For too long, broadband providers have labeled densely populated, low-income neighborhoods not economically viable for upgrades to high-speed broadband. This is discrimination, pure and simple, and it must be ended.
“Although there is still work to do, this legislation is a big step forward, connecting millions across the country. We thank President Biden for realizing how essential broadband is for our economy and the Senate for passing this important legislation. We urge the House to take it up expediently so this country can get to work on providing meaningful access to all.”
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