Here’s a fact that became apparent during the COVID pandemic: a broadband connection is as essential a service as electricity, water, and heat.
Of course, broadband allows us to order online, work from home, and stream our favorite shows—but that’s not all. Thanks to broadband-powered innovations, houses are becoming smarter and more responsive, meaning we can now do things like receive medical care or attend school from our own homes. Online education is even about to make the leap into 3-D learning simulations, while videoconferencing is evolving towards virtual rooms, holographic telepresence, and instant language translations.
A broadband connection, in short, is the bridge from the present to the future.
Despite the urgent necessity of internet access, there are still pockets of America that don’t have broadband connectivity. The problem is especially acute for those living in rural areas which, combined, account for 80% of Americans who still lack broadband access.
Let’s take a closer look at the industry’s efforts to improve broadband access for all Americans, and how government programs are helping bridge the digital divide.
Internet providers, NGOs, and government agencies step up in a crisis
The pandemic brought the simmering problem of internet access to the forefront. Suddenly, millions of Americans needed to work from home while some 55 million students and teachers were forced to undertake an unprecedented experiment in remote education. The transition—in many cases put together in lightning fashion—revealed fundamental inequities in internet access across the country, especially in underprivileged communities.
Fortunately, internet service providers, in partnership with businesses, non-profit organizations, and state and local governments, stepped quickly into the breach. These combined efforts led to the founding of the K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative, allowing cable providers and school districts to help families obtain a broadband connection through a series of sponsored service agreements. In record time, 12,000 schools partnered with local providers such as Cox Communications in Louisiana and Oklahoma, Comcast in Illinois, Mediacom in Iowa, and other providers in dozens of states.
Delivering permanent financial assistance
In November 2021, the next step in the push to 100% broadband connection arrived in the form of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bipartisan law includes $42.5 billion in funding to finance internet access, with a focus on unserved and underserved areas. Another $2.75 billion will tackle the digital divide through programs such as Wi-Fi hotspots and digital literacy programs for seniors.
Another feature of the law deserves special attention: a $14.2 billion provision to fund a permanent subsidy called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). This important initiative provides a discount of up to $30 a month for broadband service and up to $75 on qualifying tribal lands. In addition, it offers a one-time discount of $100 for the purchase of a desktop, laptop computer, or tablet through a participating provider.
A household is eligible if they already participate in federal assistance programs or meet the eligibility criteria for a broadband provider’s existing low-income program. The new ACP program is a perfect companion to the broadband adoption programs that cable providers have offered for the past decade and have connected 14 million Americans to the internet.
And the good news is, the ACP isn’t just working, it’s thriving. At a White House ceremony in February, Vice President Kamala Harris and Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that 10 million households are enrolled in ACP, making it the largest-ever broadband affordability program. “No family should have to choose between paying for gas or groceries and their monthly internet bill,” said Rosenworcel. “Now…we’ve proven the need for this program, and we are continuing our efforts to ensure no community, no household, no one is left offline.”
The path to complete broadband connectivity
The pandemic exposed an underlying problem and spurred efforts to find a solution—and it’s up to all of us to make sure those efforts continue. That means expanding broadband to areas that currently lack access, empowering federal, state, and local assistance programs such as the ACP, and collaborating with companies that have proven experience in providing internet to millions of homes.
To sign our petition calling for proactive broadband infrastructure policies, click here.