To Close the Digital Divide, Congress Must Care About All Americans

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If the coronavirus pandemic has taught the technology and communications policy world anything, it is that policymakers have utterly failed to meet the mission of the National Broadband Plan. Although the National Broadband Plan provided a road map and initially tracked progress, we have seen a relatively nonpartisan tech policy space abandon consensus views on the technicalities of the network and the importance of universal service principles. Urban and rural communities alike cry out about the essential need for affordable high-speed broadband, but in Washington (DC) only words and half measures are provided as solutions.

It is time for voters in red America and blue America to see that they are in the same place when it comes to broadband, and demand that their elected officials take action to connect each of us. We all benefit when every school, home and business connects to essential broadband networks. As we watch Washington return to this understanding in its policy conversations, we must demand that both the conversations and the proposed policies reflect the universal need in the country. 

Hearings dominated by industry are missing the voice of main street businesses and citizens from both urban and rural areas. Broadband providers are key stakeholders in this conversation, but their fear of higher expectations and accountability by the federal government needs to be tempered by having all voices at the table. Panels and stakeholder discussions that do not reflect the diversity of our country do a disservice to every community in showing how connectivity is important to each of us, even though the challenge each community faces looks slightly different.

Any revisit or renewal of a plan to connect all Americans should have the values of equity and universal access at the center of the technical and economic discussions of how to ensure networks are open, secure, and affordable. If the novel coronavirus hasn’t made plain to your member of Congress that broadband is essential for communities to learn, work and thrive, then we are in danger of discussing the need for a third National Broadband Plan a decade from now. Policymakers must agree that if one of us cannot connect, then Congress has failed all of us.

[Chris Lewis is the president and CEO of Public Knowledge.]

To Close the Digital Divide, Congress Must Care About All Americans