The debate over broadband has always been focused on connecting people in unserved and rural areas to high-speed internet. While some people in those areas don’t have the necessary infrastructure to connect to the broadband, many families in urban communities have trouble affording the options that they do have. The Democratic representative for New York, Representative Jamaal Bowman, is preparing to introduce a new bill that could help millions access more affordable broadband.
“The more access to broadband people have, the more access and opportunity they have to the world beyond where they currently exist,” Bowman says. “The internet is a library. It’s an encyclopedia. It’s information.”
Bowman introduced the “Broadband Justice Act.” The act is co-sponsored by the Democrat representative for Missouri, Representative Emanual Cleaver, who chars a housing subcommittee. The bill would call on the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) and the USDA and Treasury to update utility allowance definitions to include broadband. By classifying broadband as a utility like this, the bill would make it easier for those living in government-assisted housing to get access to the service. Other utilities, such as electricity and gas, are already subsidized. The bill would also create a grant program to help improve the overall broadband infrastructure.
The FCC already has some subsidy programs, such as Lifeline, that make it easier for people to afford broadband. However, these schemes haven’t seen much investment in recent years. Many using Lifeline get poor connections. The program is so inefficient that many don’t use it even though they qualify for it.
With Congress gearing up for the latest infrastructure bill, money for broadband expansion will likely be involved somewhere. Just last week, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina introduced a sweeping broadband package to invest over $94 million in improving broadband infrastructure for underserved areas.