IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Opinion: Affordable Internet Is a Necessity in Modern World

Closing the digital divide has become a public responsibility, which was made clear during the pandemic when online access became essential for schooling, for working and for accessing health care.

Closeup of yellow broadband cables with blue plugs plugged into a board.
(TNS) — In just a few days, Americans the nation over will join together to celebrate our country’s 248th birthday, marking the day in 1776 when members of the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, with the signers pledging mutually “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” in pursuit of freedom from the British crown.

It’s well to remember that pledge of mutual solidarity and aid from which this nation was born, a pledge that put signers’ lives, livelihoods and honor on the line.

Given today’s seemingly all-pervasive political polarization, it’s important to recall that our strength as a free country of disparate souls traces to this extraordinary pledge of mutual solidarity. We have a core commonality as Americans that binds us not just in national pride but also in a determination to come to the defense of our lands and freedoms when the call comes. Let’s remember that commonality this Fourth of July.

But second, let us also remember our obligations as Americans to ensure that all citizens, every American, can access the critical aspects of American life that help us keep a society where hard work and an adequate education can ensure success — a key to the American dream.

That means, most critically, access to schooling, jobs and health care. And in today’s society, access to that triumvirate of needs requires broadband access.

To a greater and greater degree, closing the digital divide has become a sine qua non for extending America’s promise to all. That came into sharp focus during the pandemic, when online access became essential for schooling, for working and for accessing health care.

So a grand experiment was launched in December 2021 with the Affordable Connectivity Program that offered modest subsidies to qualifying families and Tribal groups so they could get online — and stay online, with consistent broadband access.

“No effort has ever done more, faster to close our digital divide than the Affordable Connectivity Program,” Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, wrote May 31, as the program came to an end when Congress couldn’t agree on a bipartisan funding way forward.

By early February, when the FCC stopped accepting new enrollees to prepare for a possible wind-down of the program, the ACP had “enrolled more than 23 million subscribers across rural, suburban and urban America. That’s one in six U.S. households,” Rosenworcel noted.

Nearly half the enrolled households were led by individuals 50 or older. About 15% were rural Americans, many of whom likely lacked reliable access to broadband before. More than 4 million of the households included a current or former member of the U.S. military. And about 3.4 million of them were needy enough to have kids enrolled in national school lunch or breakfast programs.

The ACP proved to be the most dramatic closure of the digital divide in U.S. history. It also revealed what a necessity internet access is, and the real, positive impacts it could make on the lives of those living on the edge. It revealed, too, that only such a nationwide program could provide the consistent internet access many families had previously lacked.

According to the FCC, it “filled an important gap that provider low-income programs, state and local affordability programs, and the [FCC’s more limited] Lifeline program cannot fully address.”

That’s why the commission hopes to restore it – and says it stands ready to reboot the effort should Congress agree on a way to resuscitate part of this effort, a goal that Rosenworcel noted enjoys strong bipartisan support:

“In an era of where it seems we don’t tend to agree on much, perhaps nothing in Washington engenders broader support than the goal of closing the digital divide.,” she wrote May 31, expressing hope a bipartisan way forward could still be found.

Maybe Congress is still looking for ways to build on what ACP achieved in digital access, perhaps with a scaled-back program.

But in the meantime, this program showed the critical importance of consistent broadband access. That’s something that officials at the state and local level in Ohio need to take to heart— to explore ways they can make broadband access more consistently and reliably available to all who need it, but can’t afford it without help.

© 2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.