The public and private sectors must work together to ensure that all three parts of the digital divide — availability, affordability and adoption — are addressed. Everyone’s help is needed to give disconnected Americans the help they need.
The struggle of disconnected Americans was cast into sharp relief during the pandemic, giving rise to a broad consensus that at long last the digital divide must be closed. Artificially lowering broadband prices isn’t the answer. A top-to-bottom overhaul of the FCC’s existing Lifeline Program is.
President Biden’s recently released infrastructure plan reflects the widespread agreement that the digital divide must be closed. This historic undertaking is a unique opportunity for industry and longstanding national leaders on broadband policy, such as Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, to work together and eliminate the remaining gaps.
Rural and urban communities need to have broadband available in their communities. We need to pinpoint precisely who has broadband and who does not. Then we have to create an environment so that they can afford the technology and utilize it effectively to adopt it in their daily lives.
Alarmingly large numbers of American families are currently excluded from the digital world. Either they live in regions where it is uneconomical for the broadband providers to deploy infrastructure or they find the services to be unaffordable. Solving the affordability problem will be the province of both the FCC and Congress through reform of the 36-year-old Lifeline program, initiated in 1985 and largely underutilized today.