Some in Congress want to do more to narrow the digital divide.
A new bill, The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, set to be introduced Thursday in the U.S. House and Senate, devotes more than $94 billion to connect currently unserved and underserved communities with affordable high-speed internet access.
The coronavirus pandemic exposed the problems caused by the digital divide, the disparity in access to broadband and computers or devices to successfully participate in remote school and work. "The pandemic put a big magnifying glass on this issue," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is introducing the bill in the Senate, told USA TODAY.
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Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who launched the Rural Broadband Task Force two years ago to address the digital divide, plans to introduce the bill in the House of Representatives. He did the same last year, hoping former President Donald Trump would include it in his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which never was officially unveiled.
Clyburn now hopes President Joe Biden's plan will wrap the internet act into his own infrastructure plan, which does include provisions for universal broadband access. Expanding and improving high-speed broadband networks in rural areas is a vital trade-off for other infrastructure spending in major cities, he says. "We have to treat broadband as integral to infrastructure," Clyburn said.
About 30 million Americans do not have access to broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. But another report puts that at about 42 million. And about 12 million students are impacted by the digital divide, according to a report from Common Sense, Boston Consulting Group and the Southern Education Foundation.
"The country has seen in a very visceral way we have haves and have-nots in this country," Klobuchar said. "And this isn’t going to just go away. We are going to have online learning enhanced all the time.…. We can’t expand this divide, you have to actually close it."
A. Current Lifeline participants are eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. They do not need to apply but they will need to voluntarily enroll into the Emergency Broadband Benefit program through a participating internet provider or the FCC.
Q. What providers will be involved?
A. The FCC will be providing a web page for all approved EBB providers, so eligible households can easily see if their ISP is participating in the program once the program is available for consumer sign-up. Right now, the agency is evaluating interested EBB providers on a rolling basis.
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