By Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – The past two years have underscored what we already knew: America’s digital divide is real and has consequences for millions of Americans. An affordable and reliable connection is imperative to participate in the 21st century, and families that rely solely on mobile access are falling behind. Often they cannot attend online classes or seek out a career opportunity that offers the option of working remotely. And as more and more services, job applications and infrastructure move online, the gap is only widening.
This digital divide is one that crosses geographic, racial and class boundaries. Most often, those who do not have access to a reliable broadband connection live in the rural areas of our country. In urban areas, access is not an issue, but affordability is for many low-income families – a challenge that disproportionately affects minority communities. Data shows that black and Hispanic adults are less likely than white adults to have high-speed internet at home. And while 92% of adults who earn $75,000 or more a year say they have broadband at home, that number drops to 57% among those with annual incomes of $30,000 or less.
According to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, “More than 7.2 million children in the United States live in homes without computers, including more than 1.84 million black children… In the United States, 34% of black adults do not have broadband at home. , and 30.6% of Black households with one or more children age 17 or younger do not have high-speed Internet access at home (more than 3.25 million Black children live in these households).
Therefore, while it is good news to see that broadband prices have come down over the past five years, there are still millions of Americans who cannot afford an Internet connection at home. Fortunately, two new developments from the public and private sectors can help solve this problem: the bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the nationwide rollout of 5G home service.
Bridging the digital divide has been a priority area for President Biden. The bipartisan infrastructure package signed last year contains billions of dollars aimed at tackling not just broadband access, but also affordability and adoption. $14.2 billion of this funding went towards the creation of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which offers a $30 rebate to help low-income consumers and families pay for Internet service. In many cases, ISPs offer CPA packages that are effectively free and, to date, more than 10 million households took advantage of these significant discounts.
The infrastructure bill also provides $65 billion to help bring broadband to the many unserved and underserved parts of the country where there is little or no service to be had at any cost. States are currently working on plans in coordination with the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to finally connect parts of their cities and states that have languished with poor connectivity for decades.
One of the solutions to connect these homes is new: 5G for home broadband (also known as Fixed Wireless Access or FWA). Similar to your phone connection, 5G home is a wireless connection, quickly deployable and cost effective technology that leverages new nationwide 5G networks to deliver home internet access at cable-like speeds.
Many people who live without the internet don’t have the luxury of waiting for a technician for one, let alone two, visits. The ease of use of 5G for home broadband solves this problem. It relies on the user for self-installation, with some carriers report an average installation time of less than an hour.
Today there are more than 2,800 fixed wireless service providers in the United States. The number of companies entering the market dramatically increase competition and drive down the price of broadband even further. FWA packages are generally priced lower than cable internet rates and this new competition is a welcome development for low-income families.
The Biden administration’s broadband connectivity goals are intrinsically linked to the successful and widespread deployment of fixed wireless access. We’ve made a historic investment to make broadband affordable through the CPA and to make broadband accessible to all Americans. This landmark investment, coupled with 5G home internet service, means a better digital future for all of us, regardless of race or income level. A fair digital future is within reach.