CNN Business posts an editorial from Gigi Sohn. The details are more on affordability than access. I only note that because often I’m more focused on availability in rural Minnesota. But while availability is necessary, it is not sufficient. And whatever solution is created to make broadband more affordable to all, will ensure that when rural areas get broadband residents in the community will get it equitably.
She starts with a recap of where we are…
Roughly 162 million Americans don’t have access to the internet at broadband speeds due to high prices and a lack of faster options, according to a 2019 study from Microsoft. Meanwhile, there are estimates that anywhere from 21 million to 42 million Americans lack access to any broadband at all.
Minorities and low-income Americans, particularly in urban areas, are disproportionately on the wrong side of this digital divide. Only 56% of American families making less than $30,000 annually have a broadband connection at home. And 66% of Black and 61% of Hispanic adults have home broadband, compared to 79% of Whites.
The current support system…
Currently, low-income Americans receive a $9.25 monthly subsidy through the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program, a small stipend that must be spent on either cell phone, telephone, broadband or cable service. While this decades-old subsidy provides essential aid to low-income communities, it’s simply not enough to help the most vulnerable Americans afford the kind of robust broadband connectivity needed to participate in our society and our economy.
And movement toward improvement…
In recognition of this shortfall and in response to the pandemic, last May the House passed the Heroes Act, which still awaits Senate approval. This legislation earmarks $5.5 billion to help expand broadband access to underserved areas, and another $8.8 billion to provide a $50 per month discount on broadband service to help low-income Americans and the recently unemployed to pay for broadband access. That discount jumps to $75 per month for those living in tribal areas.
Several other proposals before Congress, including Democratic Representative Marc Veasy’s Emergency Broadband Connections Act of 2020 and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden’s Emergency Broadband Connections Act of 2020, not only seek to offer similar discounts, but also authorize US libraries to provide broadband service beyond the confines of their property lines.
These bills acknowledge the urgent importance of expanding essential internet access during a public health crisis. The Moving Forward Act, passed by the House in July, would make the $50 per month discount permanent, in recognition that the digital divide will not magically disappear once the virus is under control.