Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
On February 17, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on COVID-19's impact on the digital divide and the homework gap. There was bipartisan agreement on the importance of expanding broadband access. Democrats focused more on affordability issues, especially during the pandemic, as well as improving data on where broadband is available and where it isn't. Republicans mostly extolled deregulation as a way to encourage rural broadband deployment and the need to streamline wireless infrastructure to facilitate buildout of the next generation of wireless, 5G.
Internet access is essential for economic development and helping to deliver the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially as even basic broadband can revolutionize the opportunities available to users. Yet, more than one billion people globally still live in areas without internet connectivity. Governments must make strategic choices to connect these citizens, but currently have few independent, transparent, and scientifically reproducible tools to rely on.
One of the oldest standing legislative committees in the U.S. Senate, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has jurisdiction over communications, interstate commerce, science, and technology policy. In the 117th Congress, broadband access will likely remain a priority. With the results of the 2020 elections, the Commerce Committee is experiencing a change in leadership. On February 3, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said leaders of both parties had finalized the organizing resolution for the new Democratic-controlled Senate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the digital divide on policymakers’ agenda like never before. It is challenging them to find solutions that meet the urgency of the crisis while building a foundation for sustainable progress over time. This means that policymakers will want to build on lessons learned and explore new approaches. In contemplating these and other ideas, policymakers may want to look at analysis of broadband adoption barriers – the more reliable the better.
A key goal for President Joe Biden is to expand broadband access to everyone in America. Since at least November, he's been laying the groundwork with Congressional Democrats to increase federal broadband spending to improve both access and affordability so people stay online during the pandemic in the short term — and to help rebuild the nation's economy going forward. Key panels in each chamber of Congress will likely play an important role in shaping any legislative efforts.
In order to achieve the goal of universal broadband for everyone in Illinois, broadband must be available and affordable. However, home broadband service is out of reach for many low-income households in Illinois that are unable to afford subscriptions. Therefore, efforts to promote universal broadband should include programs that offer access to affordable broadband service, as well as access to low-cost digital devices and digital literacy training, which have been highlighted as necessary to promote digital inclusion and meaningful broadband adoption.
With passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission has but a few weeks to craft rules for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a new effort that will allow low-income households to receive a discount off the cost of monthly broadband service and certain connected devices during the COVID-19 national emergency.
On January 20, John G. Roberts, Jr., the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, swore in President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. In the (few) hours since, President Biden has been very busy. On Thursday, we learned who will be heading the key agencies with jurisdiction over broadband as President Biden named the acting leaders of the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission. Here's a look at all three.
With great drama, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 became law on December 27, 2021. The $2.3 trillion COVID relief and government spending bill extended unemployment benefits and ensured the government can keep running. The $900 billion COVID relief provision includes over $7 billion to help improve connectivity in the U.S.