In its efforts to help people deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress created the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in late 2020. The Federal Communications Commission will run the program, starting it in Spring 2021. The program offers discounts off of people's monthly internet access bills to help connect households that find it hard to afford broadband service. Households can also get discounts on a laptop, desktop, or tablet computer. Broadband providers will receive up to $50/month for providing service to low-income households ($75/month if the household is on Tribal Land).
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 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.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission pushed internet service providers to promise they wouldn't penalize customers who struggled to pay their internet bills when they needed connectivity the most. More than 800 companies signed onto the Keep Americans Connected pledge, a commitment to not disconnect customers who were behind on their bills or charge late-payment fees that drew effusive praise from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
COVID-19 has turned the floodlights on digital inequality in rural, tribal, and urban communities across the United States.
In October 2019, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society issued Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The agenda was comprehensive, constructed upon achievements in communities and insights from experts across the nation. The report outlined the key building blocks of broadband policy—deployment, competition, community anchor institutions, and digital equity (including affordability and adoption).
About one-third of the U.S. job market is made up of middle-skill jobs, which do not require four-year college degrees. Data indicate that the number of these jobs exceeds the supply of available workers. The skills needed for these jobs include facility with the internet and computers.
The 10th Anniversary of the National Broadband Plan offers a chance to reflect on the progress made in the past 10 years and lessons for the future. My focus will be on the progress in addressing the digital divide – increasing the number of Americans with broadband at home. The National Broadband Plan’s guiding principles for broadband adoption still resonate:
Community anchor institutions should be at the center of any comprehensive national strategy to promote the availability and use of High-Performance Broadband. Community anchor institutions use broadband to provide essential services to their community, such as education, information access, and telehealth services. But in the 21st century, community anchors’ missions are moving beyond their walls. Libraries no longer deliver knowledge that is housed only within their buildings or the covers of hardbound books.