Digital Equity/Digital Inclusion
Fitting the monthly cost of a broadband subscription into a low-income household budget is difficult, to say the least, because of the costs of competing necessities like lodging, food, and healthcare. These financial pressures—and unexpected expenses—keep too many people in the U.S. from subscribing to home broadband service—or cause them to drop service at times to make ends meet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress recognized these obstacles for low-income people and created a program—first called the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program—to reduce the monthly costs of connectivity.
The pandemic spurred policymakers and community leaders around the country to create programs to connect those without home broadband service or computers. These programs have had an impact. New government data show sharp increases in broadband and computer adoption in the 2019-to-2021 time frame. Initiatives such as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) have helped address “subscription vulnerability” for low-income households. With progress evident, it is time to extend and build on the ACP and local affordability programs.
Over the last two years, in California and across the country, billions of public dollars have been allocated to end the digital divide. The Digital Equity LA coalition, supported by the California Community Foundation (CCF) Digital Equity Initiative, has mobilized to ensure these investments are directed to the communities that need them most—those that have been historically marginalized and are disproportionately disconnected—and deployed in support of the most effective long-term solutions.
For many incarcerated people in the United States, exorbitant phone rates and fees make it consistently difficult to keep in touch with loved ones, lawyers, and others outside of prison. The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022—signed by President Joe Biden on January 5, 2023—will ensure just and reasonable charges for telephone and advanced communications services in correctional and detention facilities across the country.
National Skills Coalition (NSC) announced a partnership with Comcast to educate local, state, and national decision-makers about the benefits of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to promote digital equity and opportunity nationwide. The initiative aims to help close the digital skill divide that is currently limiting educational and employment opportunities for nearly 50 million Americans.
In the summer of 2023, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will begin distributing hundreds of millions, and in some cases billions, of funding to states as part of the $42 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Expectedly, states are busy creating and staffing broadband offices in anticipation of the BEAD and digital equity monies. Blinded by a nationwide broadband fever, however, some broadband leaders have proclaimed that states will entirely close, bridge, or eliminate the digital divide in the coming years.
The Federal Communication Commission's Task Force to Prevent Digital Discrimination is offering consumers an opportunity to share their stories and experiences in obtaining broadband internet access.
As Chair of the committee tasked with overseeing the historic $65 billion investment in broadband under the Infrastructure and Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Sen. Cantwell (D-WA) is working to ensure funding goes to communities that need it most. Through a broad array of broadband initiatives, our Committee Democrats believe we can expand economic opportunity and access to education, healthcare, telehealth, and e-commerce, regardless of where people live. Sen.
NTIA ended 2022 by awarding $304 million in funding to every state, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, for planning how to best deploy networks to connect everyone in America to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service. Each state has different needs and unique challenges in bridging the digital divide, and our planning grants recognize the importance of flexibility. Still, there are broad trends driving the ways states are putting this money to use:
State of Digital Inequity: Civil Society Perspectives on Barriers to Progress in our Digitizing World
A digital equity framework with five broad elements: Infrastructure, Affordability, Digital Skills, Policy, and Content. A global research study of over 7,500 civil society organizations (CSO), highlights include: