Bridging the digital divide can help address our nation’s persistent health disparities. Rural Americans not only face limited access to health-care facilities, but “suffer from higher rates of obesity, mental health issues, diabetes, cancer, and opioid addiction.” But the tie that also binds is the lack of high-speed broadband connectivity in low-income communities, too. Rural America, as you know, is facing a physician shortage and low-income and rural populations are less likely to have choice when it comes to broadband providers.
Among the hundreds of people waiting to visit Mahatma Gandhi one day was a mother who sought help in battling her son’s obsession with eating sugar. When it was their turn in line, instead of immediately counseling the boy, Gandhi asked the pair to come back in two weeks. Following a two-hour wait on the day of their return, the anxious mother repeated her request. Gandhi promptly spoke with her son and the boy agreed to work on breaking his sugar fixation.
We urge Congress to establish a broadband credit — call it America’s Broadband Credit — to ensure many more people can afford high-speed Internet access. Congress could set a household subsidy of $50 per month, which is roughly the cost of medium-tier broadband plans in urban settings (and it could provide a higher subsidy for tribal lands). That subsidy would allow anyone and any device in the household to be connected to the Internet, simultaneously, which is how so many families today are operating.
We served together on the Federal Communications Commission for nearly four years as commissioners: a Democrat from South Carolina and a Republican from Virginia. While we sometimes disagreed, we worked hard with our colleagues to expand broadband deployment and adoption to all Americans — especially the unserved and underserved. And the need to do so is made more acute by the current pandemic. In the midst of this scourge, the importance of broadband to help save lives, jobs and the economy has never been clearer.
As jails and prisons suspend in-person visits, most incarcerated people and their families are paying outrageously high costs to simply stay connected. The Federal Bureau of Prisons just made voice and video visitation free in its 122 prisons, and while noteworthy, this isn’t enough to ensure that the majority of families can remain in touch at such a crucial time. The majority of the incarcerated population, upwards of 1.7 million people, are in state prisons and local jails, where they will probably face excessive fees to call home.