One of the few good things that has come out of Washington in recent years is a commitment to invest in getting more Americans reliably and affordably connected to the internet. As 5G technology takes hold around the world, the U.S. would be shooting itself in the foot economically to let the digital divide get any deeper and wider. To compete globally, we need all Americans connected.
We all know how vitally important broadband is – especially since the pandemic – for commerce, education and telehealth.
Millions of Americans cannot imagine life without broadband internet access. But well over 40 million Americans cannot afford it or live in areas that lack the infrastructure for connecting. During the pandemic – internet access often determined whether kids could learn, if people could work, loved ones could check in on isolated family members or keep up with medications. Hispanic or Latino households know this all too well.
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Why consumer subsidies make sense
In the face of the gap between the technology haves and have-nots, plus the huge stakes in making sure all Americans can share in and contribute to today’s internet-based economy, Congress finally got serious.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted late year included $65 billion to get the internet infrastructure where it is needed and to make sure people can pay for broadband access when it is available.
To address the affordability issue in particular, the Affordable Connectivity Program provides $14 billion for households with limited income, mostly in the form of a discount of up to $30 a month for internet service. These are direct-to-consumer subsidies, built on market principles and consumer choice. It is a smart way to leverage money efficiently and effectively.
Instead of paying for government broadband expansion or building government funded programs or handouts to providers – this is a subsidy that directly helps our nation’s poorest residents afford broadband.
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How does the ACP work?
By empowering the end consumer with the subsidy, consumers can pick their provider. Plus, in many areas we do not have a network issue, we have an adoption issue. This directly addresses the adoption issue.
If you’re going to spend taxpayer money, it’s more efficient in the form of a direct subsidy to the populations you are trying to expand broadband adoption to vs. corporate handouts or supporting government-run systems.
The ACP has been a success so far. More than 15 million households have enrolled around the country, including over 300,000 here in Tennessee. As many as a half million additional households are accessing the opportunities the ACP provides every month. These are families who are eager to free themselves from their technological isolation and get the tools they need to compete in school, in the job market and access the services and opportunities that many people take for granted.
The ACP is an ideal way to help Latino or Hispanic Americans. There is a widely cited study from the Pew Center that found that only 67 percent of Hispanic adults reported owning a computer and only 65 percent said they have internet service at home, compared to 80 percent of Whites. The result is a disadvantage for families in these communities up and down the line. This is true in rural areas in the southwest or hard-pressed minority communities in big cities.
Support cost-effective programs not more spending
Tennessee’s Hispanic population grew by 3.8% from 2020 to 2021 – far faster than other groups. The ACP will help this growing population log on and succeed in a digital world, and this will help bolster the state’s growth and vitality. This is money well invested.
We agree that many parts of the larger infrastructure package were excessive, and Congress should pump the brakes on excessive new spending. However, our Washington lawmakers should support cost-effective programs like ACP – which are succeeding.
The ACP is an example of government doing the people’s business in the best sense of the phrase. It is an investment in individual students, workers and consumers who will help keep the country going strong and one that conservatives can rally behind. Let’s keep the ACP funded until we finish the job and connect all Latinos and all Americans.
Raul Lopez is the executive director of Latinos for Tennessee, an organization committed to promoting and defending faith, freedom and family to the Latino community in Tennessee.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Keep investing in making broadband access affordable for Americans