Guest column: Infrastructure bill could bridge the Palestinian Authority’s digital divide | Opinion
Congress is moving forward with an infrastructure deal that includes $ 65 billion to bring high-speed internet to those still cut off from the online world.
If a bipartisan consensus prevails, this bill has a chance to address both dimensions of the digital divide in the United States: doing good for rural residents who do not have broadband available in their communities, and for city dwellers who do not have broadband available in their communities. have trouble getting broadband at their doorstep.
In Montgomery County, we are fortunate to already be one of the “digital haves”. Our communities already have excellent connectivity – over 99% have service available and over 90% have both fiber and cable options.
But we know that our county cannot survive as an island of prosperity in a sea of precariousness. As taxpayers and fellow citizens, we all have a stake in expanding broadband access, reviving rural communities and developing a skilled digital workforce.
The past 18 months have taught us that broadband connections are essential for families to educate their children, consult health professionals, access social benefits and participate in civic life.
That is why we should encourage Congress to pass this infrastructure bill, which builds on proven public and private initiatives and learns from the mistakes of the past.
Common sense must be based on common sense. We need to build on what is already working and accelerate public resources to fix what is not working. It is estimated that 96% of Americans already have access to broadband, at average speeds much faster than those found in Europe. But that still leaves at least 14 million rural Americans with no networks available.
We know what will work and what will not. To address rural gaps, this bill wisely focuses its construction dollars on areas that do not already have high-speed broadband infrastructure. It encourages all qualified suppliers and technologies to compete for the best solutions. And it won’t waste limited funding subsidizing redundant networks in already connected areas.
In short, this approach learns from the mistakes of the rural broadband programs in the 2009 Stimulus that wasted billions of dollars building networks in areas already wired.
And as we bridge the rural digital divide, we must also tackle the urban digital divide. Here in Pennsylvania – and across America – the urban challenge is adoption, not availability. In Philadelphia, for example, 99% of homes have broadband at their doorstep, but only 70% have subscriptions.
The smart solution is to directly help low-income families connect and stay in touch. This assistance should be combined with digital literacy programs to help them understand why and how to connect.
Fortunately, policymakers can rely on public and private programs that have been proven to keep struggling households online.
Broadband service providers have connected millions of low-income families through low-cost programs, often for only about $ 10 per month. During the pandemic, Congress built on this progress by creating a $ 3.2 billion Broadband Emergency Benefit (EBB) program, providing low-income families with up to $ 50 per month for their Internet subscriptions.
The program is working: millions of families have signed up since its launch in May. And now, the Infrastructure Bill proposes to extend that program for years into the future, committing $ 14 billion to ensure that every American family can afford to buy broadband at home.
As the bill now passes through the House of Representatives, some activists and vested interests may push to reject the compromise in the hope of getting a better deal. But with such a tenuous two-party balance, there is a real risk in allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Our representatives in Washington would do better to make that deal and start distributing these resources to the communities that need them as quickly as possible.
Congress must close its partisan divisions to pass this bill that will bridge the digital divide. Let’s do this, so we can get down to the real job of connecting everyone.
Ken Lawrence Jr. is vice-chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.