Bipartisan lawmakers call for broadband expansion to eliminate inequities


Bipartisan lawmakers on Wednesday called for bridging the digital divide to help stimulate employment and workplace equity.

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) both pushed for congressional passage of infrastructure packages that would increase broadband access to rural and urban areas across the country.

“We have to level the playing field for women, people of color, and minority communities,” Brooks said at the The Hill’s “Work Redefined” summit.

Data maps inaccurately portray parts of the U.S. as having broadband access, making it difficult for lawmakers to know which areas need more attention, said Brooks, a member of the House Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on communications and technology.

According to Pew Research, 34 percent of African Americans and 39 percent of Hispanics don’t have access to broadband at home.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 19 million Americans — 6 percent of the population — still lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds.

Blunt Rochester, who is also a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, noted there is bipartisan support for infrastructure legislation that would eliminate disparities.

“Even when people of color have the same skills, we still see inequities,” she told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

An increasing number of businesses have shifted to e-commerce during the pandemic, but many have been unable to retool their operations because of limited broadband access. That shortcoming, many policy analysts say, will not only hurt those businesses but also hinder the U.S. recovery from the coronavirus recession.

Lawmakers in Washington have voiced support for infrastructure packages that include broadband initiatives, but some Republicans have balked at the price tag, with legislation in the neighborhood of $2 trillion.

Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. chief technology officer, stressed that the cost of broadband infrastructure is expensive but achievable.

“If we had the strategies that could bring the best of the public sector’s assets and the private sector’s creativity to lower the cost of the last mile of broadband,” he said at the event sponsored by Nokia, Qualcomm and Philip Morris International. “It would deflate some of the political debate about how much to subsidize, for whom and in what circumstance.”

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