Biden’s plan helps America compete in a digital world – The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald
By Kip Eideberg
Even as Democrats and Republicans continue their negotiations, there is one aspect of the infrastructure that continues to enjoy wide support – and it is also the most important part of the plan: billions of dollars in broadband infrastructure.
This investment would ensure access to high-speed Internet for every American. For the economic well-being of our country, leaders in Washington must make broadband expansion a priority. It will change millions of lives for the better.
The expansion of the Internet may seem secondary to funding improvements to roads, bridges and highways. But as the pandemic has made clear, the internet is essential for almost every aspect of daily life. Our economy simply cannot function without it.
But we are lagging behind other countries when it comes to Internet access. About 23% of Americans do not have a high-speed Internet connection. Among the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a club of developed nations, the United States ranks 15th out of 37 for fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
Even though Americans have broadband lines in their area, the connection may be spotty or nonexistent. Poorer neighborhoods have 40% slower internet speeds than wealthier neighborhoods, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. In rural counties, 65% of households connect to the Internet, compared to 78% of households nationwide.
Americans of all ages miss out on opportunities when they don’t have adequate broadband connections.
Even before schools closed for in-person instruction, a third of K-12 students did not have a strong internet connection, a digital device, or both. Without the Internet, many students cannot complete basic homework.
And they are missing out on important skills needed in the modern workforce. Between 2002 and 2016, the need for digital skills increased by 95% for workers in all occupations and in all cities. Today, 70% say they cannot do their job without an internet connection at home. Experts speaking at last year’s World Economic Forum estimated that by 2030 nine out of ten jobs will need digital skills.
Universal broadband would help bridge the digital divide between rich and poor Americans while keeping America competitive internationally.
For example, investments in broadband will help Americans employed in agriculture. In 2019, a quarter of farmers did not have access to the internet, even though up-to-date information on the weather, economy, and USDA reports are critical to a farm’s success. Expanding rural broadband, according to a report by the Breakthrough Institute, would allow farmers to adopt new technologies that could lead to a 60-70% increase in corn yields and generate up to $ 65 billion in economic income per year.
A new report from the Brookings Institution further highlights the benefits of extended broadband. He concluded that increased internet use is “associated with higher incomes, lower poverty rates and higher levels of education”.
It’s not surprising. A reliable Internet allows workers to access thousands of job postings, educational resources, and other networking opportunities. It offers home-based business owners a gateway to e-commerce, which accounts for 14% of national retail sales.
None of this can happen without investing in new broadband infrastructure. As Democrats and Republicans strive to reach an infrastructure deal, they must ensure they bridge the digital divide and that all Americans can participate and prosper in the 21st century economy.
Kip Eideberg is the Senior Vice President of Government and Industry Relations at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. This play first aired on the Hill.