February 3, 2021
We as a nation need to recognize the digital divide is not solely an issue of access, but also of affordability and adoption.
Congress recently launched and fast-tracked a major emergency broadband benefit program run through the FCC that makes public resources available to ensure low-income students have access to broadband at home. Although the cost of broadband is decreasing—while the cost of other consumer goods and services are increasing—too many remain without broadband connectivity. We as a nation need to recognize the digital divide is not solely an issue of access, but also of affordability and adoption. That is why we applaud the initial emergency broadband program that Congress has passed—and urge it to take bigger steps to provide support on a long-term basis after the pandemic passes. It’s critical to engage across all sectors—public, private, and non-profit—to ensure support to help all unserved communities get connected and stay connected. We can start with the 17 million school-age children who have no broadband connection at home—and the shared declaration that no child in America should have to sit in a fast-food parking lot to learn.
As Congress contemplates how to help low-income families purchase broadband after the pandemic ends, we believe the best way to refocus efforts on closing the affordability gap include these key aspects:
- Flexibility: We should ensure that every American home has the ability to select the services that best fit their needs, be they fixed and/or mobile subscriptions.
- Proven Success: Use programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a model for how broadband benefits can be confirmed and distributed simply and efficiently.
- Ensure Accountability and Sustainability: Participating broadband providers must be able to demonstrate their technical and financial fitness to provide broadband service through a streamlined certification process to the FCC or other universal administrator.
K12 BRIDGE TO BROADBAND INITIATIVE
USTelecom is a proud member of the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband’ initiative to help increase home connectivity solutions for students adapting to remote and hybrid learning classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic. This effort is one of many USTelecom member companies have supported since March to ensure students and teachers stay connected to each other and their communities.
The initiative, in partnership with EducationSuperHighway (ESH), a national non-profit committed to closing the classroom connectivity gap, will scale innovative solutions helping public school districts and states identify and connect students in low-income families, enabling more students to participate in remote or hybrid learning. Since the pivot to remote learning began in the spring, many school districts have struggled to determine which families lack internet access at home.
USTelecom member companies, in partnership with school districts and states, will work to identify unconnected, but serviceable, student households and offer sponsored service arrangements to connect students this school year. Core principles include:
- Companies will create a “sponsored” service offering for school districts or other entities.
- Companies will work together with school districts to identify which students need service.
- Companies will agree to a baseline set of eligibility standards.
- To maximize adoption, companies will minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families.
- Companies offering sponsored service arrangements to schools should not use school-supplied information for targeted marketing of collateral services to families covered by the program.
TRAIN THE WORKFORCE OF TODAY AND TOMORROW
Digital inclusion goes beyond access to broadband—it also must include access to the economic opportunities high-speed connectivity make possible. The future of work is shifting on a massive scale around the globe. We need ambitious national initiatives to train, retrain, and upskill a diverse and inclusive workforce to ensure broad participation in our information economy. Congress should ensure our children are tech ready and the proper incentives and policies are in place for companies to train workers to succeed in our innovation economy.