A high-stakes auction of government-owned airwaves to mobile broadband providers is set to drop a record windfall exceeding $80 billion into the US Treasury. Two additional auctions of wireless frequency bands, called spectrum, are on tap for 2021 and slated to follow the same course. The nation has become painfully aware of the digital divides that are widening inequality, slowing productivity, and impeding innovation.
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.
The “digital divide” in the accessibility of telecommunications services remains far too wide — and that current needs give urgency to closing it. A lack of sufficient Internet access is very likely keeping 12 million students from doing distance learning while their schools are closed.And the more that low-income communities are dependent on temporary grace from telecom providers, the more they have to lose when this is all over. New ideas are clearly required.