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Thursday, August 11, 2022

US VP Kamala Harris to lead effort to close digital divide

The United States Vice President Kamala Harris is in charge of President Joe Biden’s initiative to close the digital divide, he has stated.

Biden had expressed his plans to make broadband and internet access more affordable for low-income Americans.

In his first address in a joint session of Congress, Biden said that the vice president would lead his plan to grow the affordability of internet access nationwide.

“It’s going to help our kids and business succeed in the 21st-century economy,” Biden said.

“And I’m asking the vice president to lead this effort if she would, because I know it will get done.”

It “shows that the president considers closing the digital divide of utmost importance,” said Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology & Policy and former advisor to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. 

Biden’s plan orders spending of $100 billion to expand broadband in rural neighborhoods where access doesn’t yet exist and to further make broadband more affordable across the country.

“Broadband is going to be a critical part of our infrastructure of the future,” said New Street Research analyst Blair Levi.

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Levin explained that aside from the obvious benefits of broadband for education, health care, and job training, it’ll also be transformative for what we think of as traditional infrastructure, like bridges, roads, and mass transit, which will all be equipped with internet-connected sensors and other “smart” technology. 

“To the public, broadband represents the infrastructure of the future, more so than an improved road does,” Levin said.

During his campaign, Biden said he’d expand broadband to every American. Biden’s campaign promised $20 billion for rural broadband infrastructure for both wired and wireless networks to help bring internet access to areas where it simply doesn’t exist now.

It also promised to include help for local municipalities seeking to build their own broadband networks.

Congress has already been allocating funds to address the digital divide since the pandemic began more than a year ago. A half dozen states used federal funding from the CARES Act, passed last spring, to help fund broadband infrastructure projects.

Mississippi was one such state, allocating $65 million of its CARES Act funding to grants for electric co-ops, which used the money to accelerate the build-out of gigabit-speed broadband service on fiber-optic infrastructure. 

Funds allocated by Congress in the December COVID relief bill are now being used to provide a $50 a month subsidy to low-income individuals to pay for broadband service. More money for broadband was allocated as part of the COVID relief legislation signed into law by Biden in March

Harris’ experience as attorney general of California, and her time serving as a US senator from the same state, could make her an effective steward of this issue, Levin said. Her work on privacy issues, as well as her connections to influential people in the tech sector could be beneficial to developing policy. 

“Whether we’re talking about how to connect rural America or how to make sure that broadband is affordable to low income people in rural America and in cities, she has had a combination of experiences in California that can be really useful in pulling together the right policies and the right politics to make closing the digital divide happen,” Levin said. 

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