Across urban and rural America, many Americans are forced to pay too large a share of their income towards broadband, which many parts of the country deem as a basic, necessary utility. In Appalachia, where we write from today, 13.1% or 3.2 million people lack a connection to fixed broadband. The problem of access is not confined to remote, rural areas: a recent study found that America’s urban communities were amongst the most underserved by broadband in the world. Despite being in some of the most diverse and wealthiest areas, people still face stagnant wages and rising costs which make internet payments nearly inaccessible.
Affordable access to broadband provides numerous opportunities including online education, new forms of digital work, and telehealth interventions designed to bridge the gap between ‘brick and mortar’ clinics and our most disadvantaged communities. Access would allow improved quality of life and healthier communities. When families are forced to choose between astronomically high medical bills, skyrocketing housing prices, and the ever increasing cost of an education, many struggle to find the funds to pay for broadband.
The Federal Communications Commission estimates that a $40 billion infusion of capital is needed to extend high-speed internet infrastructure to the 34 million Americans currently lacking it. This would target those Americans in hard to reach places, providing the capital needed to lay high quality, preferably fiber, broadband infrastructure. For areas with an already high cost-of-living as a result of uneven economic growth, connection to the internet can be made affordable by a country that wants to ensure each person has a good choice in how they learn and what they do professionally something that broadband particularly helps accomplish.
Our nation has made great strides to improve infrastructure in the past: we built an interstate highway system and we’ve made electricity available to every part of the country. And today, in a world where so much of our interaction is digitally mediated, let’s make sure the broad spectrum of Americans without consistent and affordable access to broadband receives it soon. Access and affordability are central to ensuring that all Americans are able to benefit from a growing global economy. Our track record of large public works projects proves we know how to deploy such projects. That it is to say, America knows what to do right now to ensure every American has access to electricity, roads, and broadband. So on affordable broadband, let’s follow our example on electricity and roads, turn that knowledge into action, and make the investment.