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Lawmakers, officials stress need to expand broadband access

Lawmakers, officials stress need to expand broadband access
© Aaron Schwartz

Lawmakers and former federal officials said on Wednesday that universal broadband access is essential to boosting the American economy during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that 18.3 million Americans still lack broadband access, though critics have argued that the methodology the agency uses overestimates that access. 

That means millions of Americans have been hit particularly hard during a pandemic that’s forced people to work and go to school at home.

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“The pandemic has conclusively proven that everyone needs internet connection to have a fair shot at success,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said at The Hill’s “COVID-19, Tech, & Economic Resilience” event. 

She told the event’s moderator, The Hill’s Steve Clemons, that there is an enormous amount of lost economic opportunity if the United States doesn’t figure out how to expand internet connectivity to all Americans.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and former U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk both stressed that the U.S. must adapt to the changing economy in order to stay competitive against other countries.

“Progress did not stop during the pandemic because we have a pre-existing technology platform that is scalable and easy to use,” Napolitano said at the event sponsored by Information Technology Industry Council. “That’s why our continued investment in types of technologies and new innovations will stand us in such good stead.”

The fact that the U.S. is moving to a knowledge-based economy means that technology is transforming everything, said Kirk. 

Affordable broadband is critically important during and after the pandemic in order to address the socioeconomic and geographical disparities within internet access, said Rep. Suzan DelBeneSuzan Kay DelBeneHillicon Valley: Chip order inbound | Biden asks for more time on WeChat | New IoT bill introduced Lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to allow for increased use of internet-connected devices New state privacy initiatives turn up heat on Congress MORE (D-Wash.), the co-chair of the Women’s High-Tech Caucus.

She added that the U.S. must look at ways the public sector can expand broadband coverage across the country because there isn’t always the motivation in the private sector to help provide that connectivity.

“If we change the outcome of our poorest Americans, we are changing America for the better,” said. Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottLobbying world Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Trump ready to make McConnell's life miserable MORE (R-SC).