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Affordable broadband program making a dent in the digital divide

The $14.2 billion program that aims to expand access to the internet was passed as part of the bipartisan infrastructure deal

More than 10 million low-income households have lower internet costs thanks to the latest rollout of a program tied to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Monday.

The Broadband Affordability Program, which came into existence late last year as part of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal, gives qualifying households up to $30 off their monthly internet bill and a discount of up to $75 if they live on tribal lands.

Recipients of the $14.2 billion program can also get $100 toward the cost of a computer.

It's the followup to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, a pandemic-era policy set to expire in March that gave low-income households $50 off their monthly internet bill.

"This milestone means more entrepreneurs are building digital businesses, more families are staying connected, more children in our country are able to do their homework at home. And this is only the beginning," Harris said.

The program is also a component of a larger $65 million investment under the infrastructure bill in expanding broadband access across the country through subsidies, expanded infrastructure and lower-cost internet options.

In the digital age, many households with lower incomes and in rural areas still struggle to access the internet. While Harris celebrated the program's enrollment numbers, she acknowledged that the digital divide is much broader than the program's current membership.

"For so many of us, we use the internet as an essential and integrated part of our daily lives and we take it for granted. And yet today, more than 42 million people in our country, 42 million people, do not have access to high-speed internet, which obviously means students are sitting in fast-food restaurant parking lots do their homework over public Wi-Fi because that is the only place they have internet access. Seniors are taking their telemedicine visits not in the privacy of their home, but in local libraries with little or no privacy."

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The Covid-19 pandemic has brought gaps in access to broadband to the forefront of American politics, with schools, jobs and even health care services going online even as a substantial portion of the U.S. population struggles to access the internet at home.

Approximately 40% of U.S. households who make below $30,000 a year do not have internet at home or own their own computer or tablet, while these resources are nearly universal among wealthier households, according to the Pew Research Center.

"When we connect families and workers, students and small business owners with high-speed internet, we connect them to opportunity. The opportunity to work and learn remotely, to see a doctor online, to buy groceries through an app, to deposit a check without having to go to the bank. In short, the opportunity to live healthier, happier, efficient and more prosperous lives," Harris said.

In addition to the internet discount program, the infrastructure bill aims to tackle this divide through $1 billion for constructing and improving internet connections between rural communities and metropolitan areas, and $42.45 billion in grants for states and territories to expand high-speed internet to households and business that currently lack efficient internet connections.

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Screenshot via Courthouse News

Vice President Kamala Harris announces the enrollment of 10 million households in the Affordable Connectivity Program, which reduces the cost of internet for low-income households, during a speech on Feb. 14, 2022.