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Digital divide fix at risk as $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill stalls

Democrats at Capitol Hill are still trying to settle deals on infrastructure spending.

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This story is part of Cross broadband divide, CNET coverage of how the country is working to make broadband access universal.

When Congressional Democrats are working on President Joe Biden’s trillion-dollar package for everything from road to childcare, hanging in balance can be seen as a possible remedy for our digital divide problem. A small but important piece of the infrastructure bill.

2 weeks or more Democrats are stuck Two or more bills at the heart of Biden’s national agenda leave the fate of a $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Senate passed in August.. The law provides long-term funding for upgrading traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges and power grids. However, the bill also includes a $ 65 billion federal funding proposal for broadband investment.

On one side of the debate is a progressive in the House of Representatives, led by Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal. “Human Infrastructure” Bill Includes childcare, paid leave, universal pre-K, community colleges, affordable housing, Medicare expansion, and funding for climate change measures-will not be passed through Senate budget adjustments.

On the other side, there are two medium-sized Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin, West Virginia, and Kyrsten Cinema, Arizona, who say the $ 3.5 trillion price tag is too high. California Speaker Nancy Pelosi postponed voting on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in late September and set a new deadline of October 31, hoping that both sides could compromise.

Biden believes both laws are essential to him Better buildback The domestic agenda says it will happen.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 6 minutes, 6 days, or 6 weeks.” Biden said After Pelosi canceled the vote on the infrastructure bill in September. “We’re going to get it done.”

But broadband experts are prepared for the worst.The stalemate that the House of Representatives does not vote for bipartisan infrastructure bills robs generations of once-in-a-generation opportunities and ultimately Digital divide, A problem that has plagued policy makers for decades.

Mark Bühl, Vice President of the Internet Society for North America, said:

Chicken legislative game

NS For bipartisan infrastructure bills A $ 42 billion commitment to deploy broadband where broadband does not yet exist. If broadband is available, an additional $ 14.2 billion is promised to create a permanent $ 30 per month grant program to allow low-income Americans to serve. The bill will provide an additional $ 2.75 billion in digital equity and inclusion efforts. Finished digital redlining, A practice that Internet service providers believe they cannot make money by avoiding low-income areas (usually areas with a large population of people of color).

For the first time in more than 20 years, policy makers are seeing real opportunities to make a difference.

“It’s an opportunity to get out of the crisis,” said FCC Deputy Leader. Jessica Rosenwessel said in an interview with CNET last month. “This crisis is over the era of talking about broadband as” convenient. ” Policy makers around the world now understand that it is a “necessity” for everyone in the country. ”

But all is at stake as progressives use infrastructure bills as leverage to drive buildback better legislation without Republican support.

Buell says this tactic can be dangerous. He said it could be difficult to pass a large spending bill in the year of the midterm elections. He is also afraid that leaders will lose the urgency to work on the digital divide as life in the United States begins to return to normal.

“We are already seeing bipartisan consensus on something beginning to decline,” he said. “The farther away we are from the darkest days of the pandemic, the less likely we are to see significant commitment and cooperation between the parties.”

Indeed, Wall Street analyst, Blair Levin, a member of the Federal Communications Commission during the Clinton administration and the lead author of the National Broadband Program under President Obama, told investors last month. Like the origins of World War I, who admitted that a huge game of chicken is being played in the memo, it can have undesired consequences for everyone, which is bad for everyone in the business world. That is.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

The frustrating thing is that this problem has been around for over a decade. In 2010, the Obama administration National broadband plan He provided a guide to formulating policies to solve the problem. However, a report released long after Congress allocated a stimulus after the 2008 financial crisis did not spur collaborative action, Levin said.

“When we wrote a national broadband plan 10 years ago, we articulated many of the same things that people are now quoting,” he said. “But that wasn’t a priority. We didn’t have much political capital, and we didn’t have the money left to tackle these issues.”

2017, FCC Estimated It would cost $ 40 billion to deploy a fiber network in 98% of homes. NS The agency said in 2021 It has made some progress in ensuring that more Americans connect to broadband. From 2018 to 2019, the FCC said the number of Americans lacking at least 25 megabits / second broadband connectivity fell by more than 20% to 14.5 million Americans.

Those left behind without access to reliable and affordable broadband are people in color communities, rural areas and low-income households. Pew Research Center data Reported that 80% of white adults in the United States have broadband connections, while 71% of black respondents say they have access to broadband, and only 65% ​​of Hispanics have broadband. I am reporting that I have it.


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In large rural and urban areas, there is no high-speed internet access at all. In many other communities, services are often unreliable, unaffordable, or too late.

COVID-19 Pandemic Revealed It Americans need broadband We do everything from commuting to school to access to medical care.meeting Committing billions of dollars in federal COVID bailout dollars Granting millions of Americans to keep them online.

Levin said the global closure by COVID is the driving force behind further investment to break the digital divide.

“COVID-19 was the best evangelical I’ve ever had about why we need to solve this problem,” he said. “COVID has taught many government officials why children in all schools need to have broadband at home, and why rural areas need broadband for health care. Now we have true bipartisan support. “

Levin and other experts say that even if the broader infrastructure bill ends without a House vote, efforts to resolve the digital divide will not die completely. He hopes that another bill will be created just to support broadband and eliminate the digital divide.

“There is so much bipartisan consensus about the need to bring more people online,” he said. “If we can’t reach an agreement, I think it will put pressure on the Democrats to do something in the broadband part of the infrastructure bill.”

He added that the Republicans would probably support it. “This is one of the most popular provisions of the infrastructure bill. I have never heard of a single policy objection,” he said, “it won’t happen soon.”

Digital divide fix at risk as $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill stalls Source link Digital divide fix at risk as $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill stalls

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