Biden’s bold plan will close more than the digital divide
When Americans think of the economic, social, and culture flashpoints that divide us, our digital infrastructure is not the first thing that comes to mind. But it should be. Closing the “Digital Divide” — the gap between those who have access to computers and the internet and those who do not — is at the heart of ensuring that all Americans have greater access to a bright future. Which is why the $65 billion included in President Biden’s infrastructure plan is vital to the modernization of our economy.
The United States faces challenges. Too many of our citizens feel they lack the opportunities many of their fellow citizens enjoy. China and other global competitors are nipping at our heels. And our national infrastructure — from bridges to roads to the digital systems we rely upon — need an upgrade.
With the bipartisan infrastructure plan, we can modernize our economy and not only give ALL of our citizens the chance to succeed but enlist them in the global economic battle. That starts with addressing the fact that twelve million or more Americans don’t have reliable access to broadband.
The why of that is no secret. The digital divide has existed for decades with no true solution to fully bridge the gap in large part because most rural areas in the United States are massively expensive to build out due to factors such as geography, topography and population served. But this infrastructure plan provides a prime opportunity to commit to building out and expanding broadband in areas that, to date, have been underserved, including the more rural areas of America.
This isn’t the Field of Dreams, where if we build it, they will come. Just because people can access broadband doesn’t mean they actually will. In the past, simply building it may have been enough. But thanks to the infrastructure plan, we have the opportunity to do a whole lot more. One potential starting point would be to set aside infrastructure funds to focus on a robust program to get reluctant households to adopt broadband. This would have to be a well-coordinated campaign that includes outreach and education, though it must be accompanied by subsidies to those who qualify as low income. Building Back Better does not imply stopping at the goal line. We need to finish the job by building strong broadband networks in areas of need, encouraging and supporting uptake, then continue by investing in these networks over time as technologies evolve.
This has to be done in a smart manner. Funding and building municipal broadbands networks is not smart policy. These have proven to be unreliable money pits that lack the essential tools to deliver a quality connection, especially over time, as broadband networks require massive, ongoing investment. Also, there is the likelihood that these networks may fail. And if this happens, then millions in taxpayer funds will end up in private hands. Whose hands? Well, you can Google it.
We also must avoid the trap of adding capacity in areas that are already well-served. This certainly isn’t the time to increase broadband investment in urban areas that can already handle the heavy traffic. This is a defining moment for our country that will allow us to collectively take a massive leap forward by providing a connection to the 21 Century for all.
So, let’s check our challenges with what we can achieve.
Too many Americans feel like they are effectively left out of the modern economy because they don’t have broadband access. The infrastructure plan addresses this. We are in an increasing battle in a global economy. Getting more Americans into that global battle only benefits the country. We are in desperate need of modernizing our economy. The bipartisan plan tackles this challenge head on.
The infrastructure plan is the best opportunity we’ve ever had as a nation to modernize the economy and close the digital divide, and with leadership from the White House and Congress we can get it done. Oftentimes, crisis prompts bold, decisive action. It’s time for Congress to be bold.
Mike Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates, a nonpartisan coalition of tech companies and nonprofits.
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