Why States Should Span Digital Divide

Today American families continue to strive for the American Dream. The buzzwords “financial security” and “economic opportunity” remain at top of mind for most of us. However, the main difference in this day and age that starkly distinguishes us from previous generations is that we are living in a digital economy — one that is extremely fast-moving and heavily reliant on digital technologies.

With that said, in order to get more Americans back to work, we need to look at sectors that are capable of infusing economic vitality into local communities. In fact, much of the testimony that we have been seeing during the Federal Communications Commission recent Open Internet Roundtable Discussions alludes to this very notion — keeping the broadband industry competitive, but also ensuring that it is properly contributing to the betterment of local communities.

To date, many states have been able to capitalize on the growth of the broadband industry and leverage broadband services to greatly benefit local communities.

One industry that is proving particularly beneficial to the state of Illinois is cable. Today, cable employs more than 80,000 Illinois residents, and this number continues to grow as more cable operators continue to do business in our state. The industry is not only contributing to job creation efforts in Illinois, it is revolutionizing the state’s communications landscape in amazing ways, including working to bridge the digital divide within our communities.

As part of broadband provider Comcast’s Internet Essentials Program — an effort to connect low-income Americans to high-speed Internet — the company is investing more than $1 million in grants to dozens of nonprofit organizations across the U.S. to create Internet Essentials Learning Zones.

This investment is part of a Gold Medal Recognition Program for communities that have done the most to help close the digital divide. With Illinois among the top-rated states whose school districts have led the way in connecting families to home broadband through the Internet Essentials program, Chicago has been recognized as one of the program’s Gold Medal Communities.

To see the district that I represent working so hard to help close the divide is heartening. Through collaborative efforts with broadband providers such as Comcast, our state is helping to get all communities digitally connected and equipping younger generations with the tools, resources, and skills needed to effectively compete in today’s technology-driven job market.

This is a trend that is being seen across many states, not just Illinois. But with more than 19 million Americans still lacking access to fixed broadband service — 14.5 million of which reside in rural areas — there is still much more work to be done. The Internet has the power to transform lives. Whether it’s searching for a job online, earning an online degree, or using the Internet for healthcare related purposes — access is power.

As a public servant, it’s my responsibility to educate and give back to my community, and at this point in time, I feel compelled to draw awareness to what the cable industry is accomplishing for our state. In return, we should continue to support efforts to grow an industry that continues to contribute significantly to the well-being of our communities here at home, and across this great nation.

Rep. Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios is a Democrat serving the Illinois General Assembly’s 39th District and chairwoman of the Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs.