Press Release Rural Broadband Access

Public Knowledge President and CEO Chris Lewis to Testify Before House Energy and Commerce on Broadband Equity

May 5, 2021

Public Knowledge President and CEO Chris Lewis will testify before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology this Thursday, May 6 at 11:30 a.m. His testimony in the hearing on “Broadband Equity: Addressing Disparities in Access and Affordability” will argue for closing the digital divide so that every community, including low-income and marginalized ones, can benefit from the economic, educational, and medical opportunities provided by affordable, high-speed broadband access.

The following is an excerpt from the testimony:

“Over the life of Public Knowledge, we have [advocated] extensively… to ensure all Americans have access to affordable, reliable high-speed broadband. Before the pandemic, broadband was already the essential communications tool of the 21st century, but the pandemic has brought into clear focus just how essential broadband is, and how persistent the digital divide is.

“Low-income, marginalized, and Tribal communities are particularly unlikely to be connected. Only 66% of African Americans and 61% of Hispanics report having broadband at home. On rural Tribal lands, less than half of residents have access to fixed broadband. The cost of broadband, a lack of devices and digital skills, and a pervasive problem of broadband providers investing less in broadband infrastructure in low-income and marginalized communities are to blame for this disparity. These inequities cannot remain.

“Just like water and electricity, broadband is an essential utility. Long before the COVID-19 crisis, Americans turned to broadband ‘for every facet of daily life.’ However, COVID-19 has made the importance of broadband all the more evident. During the pandemic, broadband has been critical in supporting online school and work, access to health care and medical information, and even vaccine distribution. This is why a recent survey shows that 76% ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that internet service is as important as electricity or water.

“Clearly, we must close the digital divide and as a policy matter, there are concrete steps Congress can take to do so. When Congress has come together in the past to tackle the digital divide, it created new broadband maps showing where broadband is and isn’t available, provided funding to promote deployment of these networks, and provided funding for digital skills training. 

“Broadband is too important to continue to allow any community, but particularly low-income and marginalized communities, to go without because they cannot afford it. Broadband represents economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and the opportunity for better health and civic engagement. A lack of access further exacerbates the economic plight and equity issues we face as a nation. We have a shared, achievable goal — ensuring broadband is universally available and affordable regardless of income, location, or demographic characteristics. Congress must come together to ensure universal affordable access to high-speed reliable broadband for everyone.”

You may view the testimony for more details. You may also view our latest blog post, “It’s 2021. Why is Redlining Still Happening?” for more information on digital inequity.