Tuesday, June 14, 2022
We are just days away from Juneteenth, a holiday that reminds us of the critical link between communications and equity. June 19 commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas first learned of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Cut off from communications, slaves in Texas were denied news of their freedom for over two and a half years.
One hundred and fifty-seven years later, we can still see how lack of access to communications holds back individuals, families and communities. As Congress recognized in the new Infrastructure Act, access to reliable and affordable broadband is essential to fully participating in modern life in the United States.
Studies show that broadband benefits both individuals and communities. Broadband makes it easier for people to search and apply for jobs; and Jobseekers look for jobs, apply for them and keep looking longer. For companies, broadband makes it less expensive to access a larger pool of candidates. A digitally savvy workforce brings productivity gains to companies, who can then reward employees with Better wages. Higher levels of broadband adoption lead to economic growth, higher incomes and lower unemployment.
Researchers at Brookings also note that broadband plays an important role in improving social outcomes. Broadband is democratizing access to education, providing a wide range of free and open educational platforms, courses and resources. It can also help people promote social supports and stay in touch with a wider social network. For traditionally marginalized groups prone to social isolation, internet access allows them to connect to others. Although education and social support both have indirect health benefits, telehealth— using telecommunications to deliver health and education services — can directly improve health outcomes, especially for those who otherwise lack access to medical care providers.
While these benefits should be widely enjoyed by all, the digital divide disproportionately affects communities of color, low-income areas, and rural areas. Affordability is a major barrier to broadband adoption.
The good news is that Congress has set aside more than $14 billion to address broadband affordability for low-income households. The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a rebate of up to $30 per month on internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on eligible tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time rebate of up to $100 toward the purchase of a laptop, desktop, or tablet from participating vendors if they contribute more than $10 and less. of $50 to the purchase price.
Year-to-date, more than 12 million households have signed up for the Affordable Connectivity program. But several million others are eligible but do not yet benefit from the reduction.
This year, as we prepare to take advantage of the June 16 holiday weekend, we are refocusing our efforts to ensure those eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program actually know they could benefit from affordable broadband service. discounted (and possibly free!).
In 2022 as in 1865, too many people are still disadvantaged in part because the lack of access to communications isolates them. Our challenge is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity and ability to connect, regardless of where they live.
We all have a stake in realizing an inclusive and democratic future. Society is an organism. And broadband networks serve as its nervous system. Just as the whole body suffers if parts of it cannot communicate with the rest, society suffers if certain individuals and communities are digitally disconnected.
To make our union more perfect and just, let’s make sure that the essential communication tool of the 21st century is finally available and affordable for everyone.
Adrianne B. Furniss is Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a nonprofit organization that works to ensure that everyone in the United States has access to competitive, high-performance broadband, regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe that the communications policy – rooted in the values of access, equity and diversity – has the power to provide new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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