Press Release Rural Broadband Access

Public Knowledge Applauds Senate for Taking an Important Next Step Towards Closing Digital Divide

August 2, 2021 ,
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Last night, a bipartisan group of senators introduced an infrastructure package that includes an estimated $65 billion dollar broadband proposal designed to “bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American.” Public Knowledge commends the bipartisan group and the Biden administration for taking this important step to narrow the digital divide by funding more broadband deployment and working to make broadband affordable for everyone, but especially for low-income consumers.

This package invests heavily in closing the digital divide by providing funding to deploy networks in areas where they are lacking or are insufficient to meet consumers’ needs, including providing a long-term affordability subsidy. Public Knowledge appreciates the bipartisan package’s inclusion of funding for digital equity and inclusion efforts, the call for eliminating digital redlining, and the requirement that providers that take federal funds provide a low-cost option to consumers.

The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, President and CEO of Public Knowledge:

“We thank the bipartisan group of Senate negotiators and President Biden for recognizing that you cannot close the digital divide if consumers cannot afford broadband. This package takes significant steps towards making broadband more affordable for everyone who needs it, including providing $14.2 billion in funding to make broadband more affordable for low-income families; offering technical changes to protect consumers participating in the emergency broadband benefit program; opening opportunities for the federal government and states to work with local communities, non-profits, and alternative providers to ensure their communities are being served; and ensuring that a low-cost option is available for some consumers in areas served by providers who accepted federal deployment funds.

“While these are significant steps, more will need to be done to completely close the digital divide and provide meaningful access to all Americans. There will be more work to do on funding deployment of robust networks, creating competition to lower prices, and tackling other obstacles to adoption such as device affordability. The ability of low-income families to afford devices that give them full use of the internet is limited in this bill. Until device subsidies are created for devices that a student can write a paper on, or a parent can use to write a resume, or a senior can use to attend a telehealth appointment, some households will be left behind.

“Furthermore, while acknowledging that digital redlining is important to solve, the provisions instruct the Federal Communications Commission to ‘take into account’ whether it is economically feasible to serve a community. This is the false excuse broadband providers have been making for years to keep from upgrading infrastructure in low-income communities. It will, therefore, be imperative that the FCC protect the public interest in ensuring all Amercians are connected to robust, affordable broadband and that economic excuses are not used to avoid serving every neighborhood. Public Knowledge will work to ensure that the FCC takes consumers’ need for affordable access into account as part of this proceeding. 

“Despite this work to be done, we urge Congress to expeditiously pass this legislation and get it to President Biden for his signature so we can begin the process of helping the communities and millions of Americans that stand to directly benefit from this package. Broadband is essential for people to engage with modern society and thrive in the new digital economy. It’s time to adopt this major leap forward.”

Statement edited for clarity.