An eclectic group of advocacy groups — from organizations representing computer companies and competitive networks to associations of farmers, realtors and hoteliers — have asked congressional leaders to find a way to pass President Joe Biden‘s infrastructure package, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with its $65 billion for broadband, by the end of October.
Currently that bipartisan bill is tied to the contentious fight over the president‘s multitrillion-dollar — trimmed to under $2 trillion according to reports — “Build Back Better” plan.
In a letter to bipartisan House and Senate leadership sent Monday afternoon (Oct. 25), the groups, which include the Connect Americans Now coalition, ACT-The App Association, INCOMPAS and Broadband Now, as well as the U.S. Canola Association and Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, to name but a few, said that the pandemic has shown how vital it is to close the broadband gap.
“This digital divide threatens access to the full promise of the American Dream for too many communities — both urban and rural,” they told the legislators. “American communities are being left behind without access to broadband infrastructure, without the resources they need to afford broadband service, without access to broadband-supported devices for telehealth, telework and school and without the digital skills necessary to utilize the full potential of digital technology.’
Billions of COVID-19 relief-related dollars have already been flowing to low-income broadband subsidies, e-learning, and telehealth through Federal Communications Commission programs, the states, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and others, but nobody is arguing that more money for deployment and adoption would be a bad thing, though there is political disagreement on what should qualify as a broadband deficit — a total absence of service, for example, or lack of competition, affordable broadband or a baseline speed.
The Senate has already passed the infrastructure bill, now the groups want passage House passage by the end of the month. “Congress must build on the positive momentum by advancing additional solutions to permanently bridge the digital divide,” they said.
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