How the infrastructure bill can help bridge the digital divide
Even though negotiations between President BidenJoe BidenPutin says optimistic about possibility of working with Biden ahead of scheduled meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for the first time as president MORE and Senator Moore Capito (RW.Va.) ended without a deal and attention now turns to a group of bipartisan grassroots members in the Senate and House, there is one aspect of the infrastructure that continues to enjoy broad support – and it also happens to be the most important part of the plan: $ 100 billion in broadband infrastructure.
This essential investment would ensure that every American has access to affordable and reliable broadband. For the economic well-being of our country, leaders in Washington must come to an agreement that makes broadband expansion a top priority. It will change millions of lives for the better.
When it comes to traditional infrastructure, expanding broadband access may seem secondary to funding improvements to roads, bridges and highways. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, broadband is essential for almost every aspect of daily life, from school to purchasing basic necessities. Most jobs today require an Internet connection. 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. It follows Switzerland, France, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom, among others.
And even though Americans have broadband lines in their area, the connection can be spotty or nonexistent. Poorer neighborhoods, including those in cities, have 40% slower internet speeds than wealthy neighborhoods, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. In rural counties, 65% of households connect to the Internet, compared to 78% of households nationwide, according to the Census Bureau.
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. Today’s K-12 education relies on online tools, like Google Docs or Canvas, for everything from homework to tests. Without the Internet, many students cannot complete basic homework.
And they are missing out on important skills needed by 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 in the global economy.
For example, investments in broadband will help the many 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 concludes that increased use of the Internet is “associated with higher incomes, lower poverty rates and higher levels of education”.
It’s not surprising. After all, a reliable internet gives workers access to 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. And it allows high school students to study for exams, connect with mentors, and apply to colleges.
None of this can happen without investing in new broadband infrastructure. As Democrats and Republicans continue to work on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, they must ensure they bridge the digital divide and that all Americans can participate and prosper in the 21st century economy.
They must seize this opportunity today.
Kip Eideberg is the Senior Vice President of Government and Industry Relations at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.