The biggest change over the last 30 years has been the growing significance of the world wide web in our lives. From business sales to communication to entertainment, the internet has burrowed its way into our lives, leaving hardly any nook or cranny undisturbed.
Yet far too many Americans are struggling to participate in this digital reality because of gaps in access. Only 60 percent of Black Americans have a home internet connection, compared to 72 percent of white Americans. Eighty-four percent of earners above $75,000 possess a connection at home versus 54 percent of those earning less than $50,000.
A factor in this disparity, of course, is physical. Rural America and Native American communities have largely been left out of fiber builds, resulting in dial-up speeds just around the corner from lightning-fast connections. Price is a factor as well. At $60 per month and up, many families struggle to prioritize broadband in their lives. Finally, skills play a role as well. Even if you have gigabit speeds available, why pay an internet service provider if you don’t have the know-how to take advantage of the Web?
For these reasons and more, the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill can fundamentally alter the course of our economy and quality of life. Unfortunately, there are no specific provisions for municipal broadband, and individual state restrictions on municipal broadband remain. But with $65 billion set aside for broadband, our country can still make great strides quickly in accessibility and affordability. Also included in the bill is Senator Patty Murray’s Digital Equity Act, which expands our traditional approach to web policy by focusing on digital skills and literacy for underserved groups. President Biden has said his goal is to make sure every American has a broadband connection; this bill can make that a reality.
Whether in the public or private sector, now is the time to draw up your own digital literacy plan. There will be opportunities to lay the fiber and other technologies that connect communities, and those projects need to begin planning soon. There will also be chances to explore new paths to do workforce development for web skills, connect to developing pricing models, and reduce barriers that now prevent Americans from using the web. By pulling a team together quickly and putting together a roadmap for the role your organization can play when these dollars are available, we can fulfill the ultimate goal of this legislation and make transformative progress in our country.
The time is now.