According to a recent Gallup survey, more than 60 percent of Americans have been able to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic thanks to high-speed internet connections. Since 1996, U.S. broadband providers have invested nearly $2 trillion to connect our communities, incentivized by sound, pro-investment policies. This private investment has been well spent, providing most American consumers good value over some of the world’s best networks.
But there’s a problem: Our networks still don’t reach everyone, and private dollars alone won’t solve this challenge.
Although America’s broadband networks have performed extremely well during the pandemic, it’s troubling that many rural and low-income families don’t have the internet access they need to work and learn. This disparity has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has laid bare the challenge of our longstanding digital divide.
The truth is that the “homework gap”—the inability of low-income or rural students to access online educational resources—has grown, particularly for students of color, students with disabilities and students in rural and under-resourced neighborhoods. Millions of American families cannot afford or may lack access to the high-speed internet connection they need to work and learn from home. According to Pew Research, 15 percent of U.S. households with school-age children do not have a high-speed internet connection; for households incomes below $30,000 a year, 35 percent don’t have high-speed internet.
Our country needs to close that gap, and now is the time for legislators and policymakers to act to ensure the educational and economic success of all Americans by making broadband connectivity more accessible, affordable and sustainable. Market forces and private companies can’t do it alone because of the lack of return on the significant investment necessary to reach all Americans. But it is in society’s interest for our government to financially incentivize the investments necessary to ensure that all children can learn, and all workers can do their jobs. Through a mix of public subsidies for low income households and smart policies that encourage new infrastructure investment in unserved areas, we can finally close this gap.
Here are four specific things Congress and the administration can do to meet the goal of bringing high-speed broadband to every American family: