Democratic lawmakers, advocacy groups push for affordable internet access in next stimulus package

Democratic lawmakers, advocacy groups push for affordable internet access in next stimulus package
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups are teaming up to push for federal funding to ensure affordable internet access nationwide in the next coronavirus stimulus package.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyGOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday The Hill's Campaign Report: Jacksonville mandates face coverings as GOP convention approaches Steyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary MORE (D-Mass.) and Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) joined a dozen of the groups, including Common Sense Media and Demand Progress, in a livestream Wednesday to make the case for new funding.

"We have a digital divide in this country, there's no question about it," Blumenthal said.

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"In Connecticut, I hear about it literally every day because of this pandemic. The need for online learning at home has heightened and highlighted that digital divide — it is a disparity that is unjust and deeply unwise for America because we are depriving ourselves of significant talent that is very simply shut out of our economy and our society."

"The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the homework gap experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home, and are unable to complete their homework," Markey added.

The dozen groups jointly delivered more than 110,000 petition signatures to Congress Wednesday urging for access to the internet to be guaranteed in the upcoming funding package.

“The cost of broadband is so high and the broadband-providers’ policies are so discriminatory that even before the crisis began and millions lost their sources of income, more than one-fifth of households nationwide didn’t have home internet,” reads one of the group’s petitions.

In a separate effort Wednesday, 218 advocacy and industry groups sent a letter to congressional leadership making a similar ask.

"Like food, water, and electricity, everyone needs broadband internet service during this unprecedented crisis," the groups wrote. "That is why Congress must include policies that support broadband availability, including increased funding for adoption, network sustainability, and deployment for areas still lacking access, in upcoming stimulus packages."

Wednesday's letter, petitions and livestream come amid rising pressure from Democrats to include broadband funding in the next coronavirus package.

The first package passed by Congress last month included $125 million for the Rural Utilities Service, but advocates say much more support is needed to close large gaps in connectivity.