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Taylor: Broadband Internet must be part of 'building back better'

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Taylor: Broadband Internet must be part of 'building back better'

Matthew Taylor is a member of the Governing Board of Sunnyside Unified School District.

With COVID-19 cases finally receding in communities with high vaccination rates, the question on policymakers' mind in Washington and throughout the country is how to rebuild more equitably so that the United States comes back even stronger and better positioned to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Whether it's tackling sustainability to address climate change, modernizing public transportation and airports or implementing a nationwide paid family leave program, Washington leaders are focusing on getting the details right to help us meet the moment.

Broadband infrastructure is no exception. The framework released by President Joe Biden and a handful of Senate Republicans called for $65 billion in spending and while the details still need to be worked out, it's an important step in the right direction. At a time when we aren't getting bipartisan agreement on almost anything, leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize the need to invest in broadband and preparing for the future.

The reason is because even though the United States has the best broadband in the world at the best value, 19 million Americans still don't have access to broadband.

There are several reasons why Americans aren't connected to broadband Internet. One major problem is lack of access. 25 percent of rural communities don't have access to the infrastructure at all – they can't get online even if they want to. This is predominantly a rural issue – it's often difficult to build new infrastructure – wires, cable, towers, and the workers to service them – to serve a relatively small amount of people.

But in 2021, with so much of our everyday life online, it's unacceptable that so many of our fellow Americans in places like Summit View in my district can't even get online if they want to.

The most direct path to getting these folks online is for the federal government to prioritize bringing broadband to the millions of rural Americans who lack access to broadband infrastructure. This is common sense – put taxpayer dollars first towards the areas of greatest need, which in this case, is communities without any broadband at all. Furthermore, with multiple technologies that allow Americans to get online at speeds suitable to work, learn, and play, we need to take an all of the above approach to investing in the tech that will get us there. Whether it's 5G wireless, satellite, fiber, or cable, investing in a range of technologies ensures that un-served communities can get connected through the tech that works best for them.

Additionally, many Americans, despite most Internet service providers voluntarily offering entry-level plans to qualifying households for just $10-20 per month, cannot afford broadband. According to a recent Pew Study, 34% of Americans had trouble paying for their Internet service during the pandemic.

The good news is there's a fix for this that can get millions of Americans online quickly. Congress can pass a permanent federal benefit that helps low-income families afford access to broadband and the economic power it brings. The federal government helps pay for school lunches, affordable housing and health care coverage to low-income families.

Broadband is clearly an essential service in 2021, and the government has a role to play to make sure everyone has access.

We know this works because it's working right now. The December 2020 COVID relief bill included a provision to help qualifying households pay for broadband service and already nearly 3 million people have claimed the benefit. The problem is that this benefit will expire, leaving folks without broadband again.

America truly has a chance to build back better. Whatever reason is driving a lack of broadband, be it lack of access to infrastructure, affordability or lack of digital literacy skills we need bold action to get every American connected.

It's not just the right thing to do – making sure everyone is connected to broadband is essential to help power America's economy into the 21st century and give everyone a path to the American Dream. We have the know-how, the political will to tackle big issues and take bold action. Now we just need our elected leaders in Congress to deliver.

Matthew Taylor is a member of the Governing Board of Sunnyside Unified School District.

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