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Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Get Your ACP
We're just a few days from Juneteenth, a holiday that reminds us of the critical connection between communications and equity. June 19 commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas first learned about the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Cut off from communications, slaves in Texas were deprived news of their freedom for over two and a half years.
One hundred and fifty-seven years later, we can still see how lack of access to communications holds back individuals, families, and communities. As Congress found in the new Infrastructure Law, access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband is essential to full participation in modern life in the United States.
Research shows that broadband delivers benefits to both individuals and communities. Broadband makes it easier for people to search and apply for jobs; and job seekers to search for jobs, apply for them, and to keep looking for longer. For businesses, broadband makes it less expensive to access a larger pool of candidates. A digitally fluent workforce brings productivity gains to firms, which can then reward employees with higher wages. Higher levels of broadband adoption lead to economic growth, higher incomes, and lower unemployment.
Researchers at Brookings also note that broadband plays an important role in improving social outcomes. Broadband democratizes access to education, offering a wide supply of free and open education platforms, courses, and resources. It can also help people foster social supports and stay in contact with a broader social network. For traditionally marginalized groups who are prone to social isolation, access to the internet allows them to connect to others. Though education and social support both have indirect health benefits, telehealth—the use of telecommunications to deliver health services and education—can directly improve health outcomes, especially for those who otherwise lack access to medical providers.
Although these benefits should be broadly enjoyed by all, the digital divide disproportionately affects communities of color, lower-income areas, and rural areas. Affordability is a major barrier to broadband adoption.
The good news is that Congress has set aside more than $14 billion to address broadband affordability for low-income households. The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
Since the beginning of the year, over 12 million households have signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program. But many millions more are eligible but are not yet enjoying the discount.
This year, as we prepare to enjoy the Juneteenth holiday weekend, let's refocus efforts on making sure that the people who are eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program actually know they could be getting discounted (and maybe no-cost!) broadband service.
In 2022 as in 1865, too many people are still disadvantaged in part because lack of access to communications isolates them. Our challenge is to ensure everyone has the opportunity and ability to connect, regardless of where they live.
We all have a stake in achieving an inclusive, democratic future. Society is an organism. And broadband networks serve as its nervous system. Just as the whole body suffers if some parts of it aren’t able to communicate with the rest, society suffers if some individuals and communities are digitally disconnected.
To make our union more perfect and just, let us ensure that the essential communications tool of the 21st century is finally available and affordable for all.
Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
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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