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House Democrats introduce legislation to expand affordable broadband access

House Democrats introduce legislation to expand affordable broadband access
© Bonnie Cash

A pair of House Democrats on Tuesday introduced legislation that seeks to provide affordable broadband access to millions in the country who live in federally subsidized housing.

The bill from Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Treasury Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to revise utility allowance definitions to add broadband to the list of subsidized utilities.

The legislation is the latest by lawmakers in Congress that seeks to expand internet access for Americans in impoverished communities as the ongoing pandemic has forced many across the nation to shift to virtual learning and remote work over the past year.

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Bowman said in a statement that the “pandemic has exacerbated an already pressing need” and that, “in the 21st century, we must rethink broadband as a basic utility alongside gas, electric, and water.”

“It’s been almost 80 years since the government began providing subsidized utilities to those in need. In our district alone, there are over 21,000 living in public housing, and their livelihoods depend on us bringing our understanding of essential utilities from the 1930s to modern times,” said Bowman, a progressive whose district spans parts of Bronx and Westchester County.

Cleaver said in a statement that “access to broadband has grown from a luxury for the few to an essential utility needed by all.”

“The pandemic has laid bare the dire need for Congress to invest in affordable, high-speed internet for working class families in rural and urban communities, but American across the country could tell you this issue has been festering for years,” he continued.

Cleaver said the legislation will ensure millions of Americans in federally subsidized housing, as well thousands in his Kansas City-area district, are able to receive “access to affordable broadband and a fair chance at the American Dream in the digital era.”

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“The calls for this legislation are calling from all corners — tenant organizers, affordable housing developers, federal renter advocates, rural housing groups, and public housing leaders. We’re proud to introduce this legislation to unify behind a renewed understanding of utilities, and the mission to ensure that broadband is accessible to everyone,” Bowman added. 

In addition to expanding affordable broadband access for those living in federally subsidized housing, the bill also seeks to establish a grant program that would be used for assistance related to broadband installation and utilization.

The bill comes days after House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill House unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants Democrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' MORE (D-Minn.) reintroduced legislation that would put more than $90 billion toward expanding broadband infrastructure.