Democrats launch a new broadband initiative

Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Call it the digital divide, the lack of broadband internet in rural areas and low-income urban households. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the contrast between digital haves and have-nots has become a burning issue.

Now Congressional Democrats have unveiled a $94 billion proposal to make broadband more accessible and affordable nationwide. The proposal aims to invest billions into bringing broadband service to places where it doesn’t exist and speed up internet connectivity in areas where it’s slow.

The bill also aims to help families struggling to pay their home internet bills.

About 30 House and Senate Democrats have signed onto the bill, which is being spearheaded by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). They hope to advance their bill, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, as part of congressional action on infrastructure reform later this year.

The digital divide has been an issue for years, but the pandemic put the problem in the spotlight.

As companies sent workers home to work remotely via their household internet connections, some workers in rural areas with limited internet connectivity found it challenging to complete daily tasks.

The same rings true for schools, as many students’ families can’t afford quality internet connections. Klobuchar has repeatedly described hearing horror stories about students who must sit in parking lots at liquor stores and fast-food restaurants just to access the Web.

This new initiative comes a day after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion package designed to help US households hit by the pandemic. It included $7.1 billion in emergency connectivity funding for remote learning and cash injections for federal technology efforts.

The $7.1 billion will include money for schools and libraries to buy Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices for students to use while remote learning during the pandemic. This cash injection resulted from pressure from education advocates who petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for funding in January.

Now that Democrats control Congress and the White House, they have big plans for broadband.

In February, the FCC announced a federal program to subsidize broadband costs for low-income households during the pandemic.

“From work to healthcare to education, this crisis has made it clear that without an internet connection, too many households are locked out of modern life,” said new FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel, a long-standing supporter of broadband assistance for students.