Saturday, November 6, 2021
OK, I admit it, that headline is a bit deceiving: tens of billions for broadband deployment and adoption is nothing to sneeze at. But there is additional language in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that we should recognize and celebrate.
President Joe Biden will sign the bill into law soon. In the broadband infrastructure, adoption, and affordability sections, Congress has included some critical language that lays the foundation for the broadband future we are about to embark upon. Congress lays out a critical set of challenges, principles and goals that every state and local policymaker, every community leader, and every broadband provider should embrace and evangelize.
At this critical moment in time, Congress has given us a call to action—and we should do our part to maximize the success of these new programs. Congress, for all of its foibles, has passed a broadband bill that isn’t just about connecting computers to the internet, connecting investment with community need, or connecting people with broadband, this historic law is focused squarely on connecting every American to a whole new generation of opportunity.
So as we begin to implement this bill, let’s keep these words in mind… let’s make sure we make good use of this investment, rise up to this challenge, meet this moment, and make sure that we wisely tackle the critical challenges that Congress identifies.
In the legislation, Congress officially finds that:
- Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband is essential to full participation in modern life in the United States.
- The persistent ‘‘digital divide’’ in the United States is a barrier to the economic competitiveness of the United States and equitable distribution of essential public services, including health care and education.
- The digital divide disproportionately affects communities of color, lower-income areas, and rural areas, and the benefits of broadband should be broadly enjoyed by all.
- In many communities across the country, increased competition among broadband providers has the potential to offer consumers more affordable, high-quality options for broadband service.
- The 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic has underscored the critical importance of affordable, high-speed broadband for individuals, families, and communities to be able to work, learn, and connect remotely while supporting social distancing.
Moreover, it is the sense of Congress that:
- A broadband connection and digital literacy are increasingly critical to how individuals—(A) participate in the society, economy, and civic institutions of the United States; and (B) access health care and essential services, obtain education, and build careers;
- Digital exclusion—(A) carries a high societal and economic cost; (B) materially harms the opportunity of an individual with respect to the economic success, educational achievement, positive health outcomes, social inclusion, and civic engagement of that individual; and (C) exacerbates existing wealth and income gaps, especially those experienced by covered populations;
- Achieving digital equity for all people of the United States requires additional and sustained investment and research efforts;
- The Federal Government, as well as State, tribal, territorial, and local governments, have made social, legal, and economic obligations that necessarily extend to how the citizens and residents of those governments access and use the internet; and
- Achieving digital equity is a matter of social and economic justice and is worth pursuing.
Finally, it is now the policy of the United States that:
- Subscribers should benefit from equal access to broadband internet access service within the service area of a provider of such service;
- “Equal access” means the equal opportunity to subscribe to a service that provides comparable speeds, capacities, latency, and other quality of service metrics in a given area, for comparable terms and conditions; and
- The FCC should take steps to ensure that all people of the United States benefit from equal access to broadband internet access service.
For the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society and our allies working to bring open, affordable, high-performance broadband to all people in the U.S., this renewed and updated Congressional commitment to universal service is astounding. This really is our broadband moment—and Congress has stood up, recognizing broadband’s essential role in modern life and providing the foundation to ensure everyone has affordable access.
The pandemic revealed in all-too-stark terms what is at stake if we don’t close the digital divide. Our choice is to allow the divide to persist, holding back individuals, families, communities, and our nation—or we can ensure everyone can use broadband fit for the changing world. In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, America chooses the latter and we will all be better for it.
As important as this moment is, there is still so much work to do. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides support for efforts that will mainly be carried out at the state and local levels. Communities around the country need to engage local policymakers, advocates, community anchor institutions, and representatives from vulnerable populations for long-term planning. This once-in-a-generation investment must meet tomorrow’s bandwidth needs, not just today’s. Solutions should support the values of access, equity and diversity and guarantee the benefits of broadband reach every neighborhood in every corner of the country.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society will be here to offer help every step of the way.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, after all, is about more than money. It is about commitment. It is about the value of connection. Let’s seize this opportunity to make the U.S. more equitable and more just.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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