The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a gap of opportunity that has been growing for decades: Since the advent of widespread internet access, far too many people have been left behind due to digital inequalities crippling communities urban, rural and low-income.
Broadband has become a public service as essential as electricity, with technological devices being an integral part of Louisianans’ lives and their ability to socialize, work, learn, etc. However, access to this critical infrastructure exhibits large disparities, with census data revealing that around 5 million rural households and around 15 million urban / metro households do not have broadband access.
And this digital divide persists in Louisiana. According to data from Broadband Now, approximately 404,000 people do not have access to a reliable connection at sufficient speeds. And although there are 126 ISPs providing services to Louisianans, over 260,000 people do not have access to any wired provider in their homes, and another 439,000 people have only one ISP. Internet available, which limits their choice of services and packages.
Lack of access to sufficient broadband infrastructure prevents residents from accessing many work opportunities, students from excelling in their education, and patients from accessing telehealth resources that improve their health.
But progress is being made.
The over $ 1 trillion infrastructure investment and jobs law passed earlier this year provides $ 65 billion to improve high-speed internet access and make broadband more affordable for households at home. low income across the United States. , expand low-cost service offerings, and develop comprehensive plans to ensure equal Internet access for historically underserved communities.
As a Louisian, I see the light at the end of the tunnel with Louisiana’s own Mitch Landrieu chosen as President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure czar, tasked with overseeing the distribution of funds for the bipartisan infrastructure plan. Having seen first-hand the devastation Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked on our state, Landrieu is well aware of the importance of updating and investing in solid infrastructure, which includes broadband access.
As the work of allocating funds for the infrastructure plan begins, I urge Landrieu and The Infrastructure Implementation Task Force to take a close look at the state of inequalities in our country to help those in need and to distribute funds to those in need. communities that suffer from lack of broadband access the most. Additionally, as funds are released in communities, lawmakers should aim to focus on crafting rules to ensure those funds are used to most effectively bridge the digital divide.
A report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies illustrates the disproportionate impact of lack of access to high-speed internet, with 38% of African Americans in the rural black South saying they do not have an internet connection home. Many of these households do not have broadband, either because it is not available or because they cannot afford the service. Pew estimates that American households with incomes of less than $ 35,000 are much less likely to have broadband; this represents 60.8% of black households in the rural black south.
The expansion of broadband will help improve jobs, incomes, education and health care, and it is imperative that, as we continue to move forward towards closing this digital divide, we focus on Historically underserved communities across the United States, including those in rural, urban, and underprivileged areas. – income communities.
Getting those federal dollars to focus on the people and neighborhoods that need it most is the right step in finally making broadband affordable and accessible to all.
Dr. Samuel C. Tolbert Jr. is President of the National Baptist Convention of America and Senior Pastor of Greater St. Mary Baptist Church in Lake Charles.