On July 19th, 120 members of the House Democratic Caucus signed a letter to President Biden urging him to take decisive action to close the digital divide for all Americans. The letter thanked President Biden for his work on the bipartisan infrastructure package and encouraged him to allocate funds that would support a permanent broadband benefit program for families unable to afford internet connectivity.
“Millions of Americans lack access to the internet. Some don’t have access due to lack of broadband infrastructure in their communities, while others simply cannot afford it,” said Congressman G.K. Butterfield, a key advocate for closing the digital divide and an author of the letter. “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of broadband connectivity for all Americans. In order to provide equal opportunity for all Americans, a permanent broadband benefit is a crucial step to finally close the digital divide.”
I couldn’t agree more. The pandemic highlighted—and at times, exacerbated—the inequalities in our country. This was particularly true with the digital divide. During the pandemic, it became clear that internet connectivity was not just a benefit, but a necessity. And large segments of low-income families and communities of color found themselves with unequal access to the online health, education, and economic services that have now been integrated into our daily lives.
Funding the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program was a necessary step to help our country through these trying times by connecting struggling households with critical resources like jobs, healthcare services, and classrooms. But the program won’t last forever, and more is needed to sufficiently meet the connectivity needs of Americans in the near-term and in the future by addressing the issues of broadband availability, affordability, and accessibility. A permanent broadband benefit through a modernized Lifeline Program, for example, will be key to closing the digital divide.