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Updated: April 1, 2024 Viewpoint

Viewpoint: Congress must act to ensure digital equity

In our 21st century modern society, the importance of high-speed internet for every individual cannot be understated. Internet access enables people to job search and engage in remote work. It enables students of all ages to access remote learning to prepare for the jobs of the future. It expands access to quality and affordable healthcare through telehealth. It is key to economic wellbeing.

James T. Brett

For far too many households, the cost of high-speed internet access is a significant barrier. Fortunately, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 authorized a program called the Affordable Connectivity Program, providing a monthly subsidy of $30 for eligible households to use for broadband internet and a one-time $100 benefit toward the purchase of a tablet, laptop, or other internet device.

Since its launch in December 2021, ACP has helped 23 million American households gain access to affordable broadband, including nearly 370,000 in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, funding for the program is expected to run out as soon as April. Should Congress not extend funding for the ACP, the impact on digital equity goals would be significant. This funding shortfall comes at a time when other major investments in digital equity are underway. The Broadband Equity Access Deployment program – also born of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – will provide $42.5 billion for broadband buildout to increase access nationwide. If the ACP runs out of funds and households cannot afford a connection in newly built out areas, the BEAD program could be in peril.

In January, bipartisan legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to extend funding for the ACP. It would infuse $7 billion into the program. The proposal has particularly strong support in the House, with 180 co-sponsors, including the Bay State’s own Congresspeople Jake Auchincloss, Stephen Lynch, Jim McGovern, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, and Lori Trahan. The Biden Administration has called for extending ACP funding, sending Congress a supplemental request for $6 billion in October.

Hundreds of other groups, including the National Governors Association, the AARP, the U.S Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, have expressed support for extending ACP funding. In January, The New England Council was proud to add our name to the long list of supporters.

Congress certainly has a variety of complex issues to confront in the months ahead – from passing government funding, to grappling with conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. But extending funding for the ACP should be a no-brainer. It is imperative we work to close the digital divide in across the U.S. and ensure equitable internet access for all Americans.

James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council, a regional alliance of businesses, nonprofits, and health and educational institutions dedicated to supporting economic growth and quality of life in New England.

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