Recently, MANA joined many of the country’s major civil rights organizations in a letter to President Biden and Congress urging federal action to create a permanent, affordable broadband solution for low-income Americans. In a sign of this issue’s importance and strong appeal, a cross-section of consumer and corporate groups aligned to convey the urgency and need for immediate action. Together, we are issuing a call to action for lawmakers to solve a worsening problem. As schools and businesses closed due to the COVID pandemic, we immediately saw the negative impacts due to gaps in digital equity and literacy. Over a year later, these inequities continue to plague families.
To understand this problem, look at the numbers:
· An estimated 10 to 15 million students don’t have broadband at home.
· People with disabilities are 20% less likely to have home broadband or the technology to go online than those without disabilities.
· 40% of seniors don’t have a wired connection necessary for a video connection, a telemedicine issue which increasingly has life-and-death importance.
· For people of color and indigenous peoples, the numbers are even worse.
About 25 years have passed since a Clinton Administration official first used the term “Digital Divide.” While that once referred only to those without broadband access, the term has evolved in a crucial way. It now includes low-income residents who have access but cannot afford it. Our letter calls on President Biden and Congress to pass a long-term broadband support program for low-income people funded at the federal level that would continue operating long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
We believe this program should use a streamlined payment system with direct-to-consumer benefits. We want a program that empowers communities in need by giving them maximum choice in service offerings. The current Lifeline program supporting economically vulnerable families has helped with telephone service and broadband. But Lifeline’s $9.25 per month benefit is not enough to move millions in need over to broadband. The temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), passed last year was a good step forward, and will finally start in earnest this week.
For the Latino community as a whole and especially Latinas, this is an urgent issue. More than almost any other ethnic group, the internet is crucial for our community. According to a recent Pew survey, more than 30% of Latinos are almost constantly online, a higher level than other groups.
As the President and CEO of an organization that serves Hispanic women, I am especially concerned for our Latinas. So many of our women are the caregivers in their families for young children or older relatives. This is a growing reality for Millennial and Gen Z Latinas. For them, home internet access is a critical connection to the outside world. It’s vital to their ability to learn English, complete high school or obtain a GED, and access telehealth visits, which is especially important if they rely on public transportation or have other mobility considerations.
We all know that broadband access is a great equalizer across communities and has the potential to not only be a lifeline, but a resource to access the building blocks of future success. Of particular importance to me is Latina entrepreneurship. For hundreds of thousands of Latinas, especially those in poverty, home broadband represents access to setting up a business, engaging customers, and building a better life. Having access to the internet and the tools to become entrepreneurs is their key to achieving the American Dream.
As the Mexican proverb goes, “Al mal paso, darle prisa.” We need Congress and the Biden Administration to understand the urgency of this moment, and how impactful a new long-term support program for broadband access can be both immediately, and for generations to come. The Latino community’s economic prosperity and future opportunity depend on their immediate action. Failure to act cannot be an option.