The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would give preference to projects that help support rural, tribal, and low-income communities
The detriments of digital inequality have never been more pronounced than throughout the ongoing pandemic, in which millions of people around the world are confined to their homes. In the US, a report from federal regulators last year found that 18 million people lacked reliable connectivity, primarily in rural, tribal and low-income communities.
Now, a new bill being championed by Democrats is proposing the creation of a $94 billion fund to support broadband accessibility throughout the US over the next three to four years. The majority of this fund will be used to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure.
The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA)’s primary goals are to expand coverage to areas where it is currently lacking, upgrading speeds as needed, and providing subsidies for families who will struggle to pay for connectivity.
“The pandemic really brought into absolutely clear focus for everyone how important broadband is,” said Senator Angus King. “This is like rural electrification in the ’30s.”
Speaking to the Washington Post, democratic member of the House of Representatives James Clyburn said that the bill would lay the foundations for a more digital nation and give a much needed boost to economies around the country.
“We’re not going to grow the economy in our communities all across the country without broadband,” said Clyburn. “The investments we’re making in this, and the build-out over three to four years, makes this one of the best infrastructure efforts we can undertake today.”
Additional goals for the AAIA include earmarking an additional $6 billion to extend the affordability programme Congress authorised in December as part of a stimulus bill, effectively doubling the funding made available at the end of last year. Around $2 billion is also earmarked to help improve internet access for students and facilitate remote working.
For many years now, closing the digital divide has been a notable priority for Democrats in Congress, though they have typically run into significant opposition from their Republican counterparts, who largely prefer to let the private market self regulate. However, much progress has been made in recent months, with the effects of the coronavirus making the connectivity imperative clear to see; Congress has approved over $14 billion in connectivity subsidies over the past four months.
This news comes just a day after President Biden’s $1,9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package was approved by Congress, which includes direct payments of up to $1,400 for most American adults.
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