NDIA submitted comments to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in advance of today’s hearing on “Broadband Equity: Addressing Disparities in Access and Affordability.”

The pandemic highlighted the need for a high-touch, highly personalized approach to closing the digital divide and that closing the digital divide is complicated and will require multi-faceted, layered responses. For example, the Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology found in their Home Connectivity Report, even when provided a no-cost internet subscription, many K-12 families opted out of the program because of a variety of factors such as a distrust of the ISPs, privacy concerns, or confusion about their eligibility for the program.

In our comments, we outlined eight recommendations for Congress to take immediate action on to address disparities in access and affordability. Our recommendations are rooted in the lessons learned from the pandemic and our affiliates’ on-the-ground experience and research. They are:

    1. Allocate funding for state and local digital equity planning and implementation
    2. Allocate funding for community-based digital equity planning
    3. Establish an Office of Digital Equity in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration
    4. Extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and address low-income affordability through a permanent benefit
    5. Invest in broadband networks built to address affordability
    6. Create a National Digital Inclusion Corps
    7. Ensure broadband cost data transparency
    8. Direct funding derived from spectrum auctions proceeds to establish an independent fund dedicated to funding digital equity initiatives

The hearing will take place at 11:30 a.m. (EDT) via Cisco Webex online and will be streamed live here.

In his memo to the subcommittee, Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. wrote that “Americans view internet service as being just as essential as other utilities, like electricity and water. However, not all households in the United States can subscribe to home internet service, sometimes due to non-existent or inadequate infrastructure and other times due to the inability to afford the cost of service.”

Chairman Pallone outlined the major issues the subcommittee should address to be, 1) Access to High-Speed Networks, 2) Affordability of Service, and 3) Digital Literacy and Skills.

Witnesses for the hearing include NDIA’s partners at the National Urban League, Public Knowledge and Next Century Cities.