Progress on internet access for all is at risk if Washington does not act


(Sean L. Holland is senior pastor of the Epicenter of Worship Church in south Lansing and director of transformational Leadership at One Love Global, a local nonprofit.)

 Access to broadband internet during the Coronavirus pandemic was one of the most significant and advantageous tools for families, students and workers during a historic, frightening period of world history. Not only were we able to virtually gather, learn and be productive, we were empowered to worship with our faith communities and to collectively watch and dialogue about our nation’s long history of racial violence in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

I’m a pastor and social justice leader in our community, and access to affordable internet ensured that I could continue ministering to my flock and that grassroots activists with our community could continue to raise awareness of the most pressing social needs and disparities in Lansing. But prior to the pandemic many families, students and workers could not afford to access the internet. The digital divide — the gap between those who have a connection to high-speed internet and those who do not — was staggering. So, what began as a temporary, federal funding program known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit was made permanent as the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, on Dec. 31, 2021, as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. This was a big deal, but now it is in jeopardy of running out of funding. ACP is at risk of expiring within the next few months if the White House and Congress do not act.

For those without a connection, it is seemingly impossible not to lag behind in a society that is now interlinked through broadband service. For many students, it means they have few-to-no resources with which to attend school or complete their schoolwork, causing them to lag behind their counterparts who are fully connected. For those employed or seeking a job, not having reliable broadband can mean the difference between financial ruin and a stable income. And for the countless Americans struggling with chronic health conditions, lacking a connection can mean going without the critical access to telehealth that more seamlessly allows them to access the regular health care services required for better health outcomes.   

ACP, introduced by President Biden, is not only addressing the digital divide — it is perhaps the best tool we have for closing it. Over 21 million Americans, including 787,000 Michiganders, are enrolled in this much-needed service, and thousands more are enrolling each week.

It is critical that we also acknowledge the ways in which the digital divide intersects with many of systemic, racial inequities that continue to harm communities of color today. For these communities, lacking a connection only exacerbates access disparities that already exist when it comes to critical resources for education, healthcare, economic opportunity and more. Analysis has reflected the inequities in connectivity, with one recent Pew survey finding that while 80% white adults have broadband connectivity at home, just 71% of Black households and 65% of Hispanic households do, oftentimes due to a lack of the financial means to afford their monthly subscription bill.

Understanding the ways in which the digital divide worsens already troubling racial disparities in access, the Congressional Tri-Caucus, comprising the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, recently called upon the White House to prioritize extending ACP’s funding to ensure communities of color are not left behind at this critical junction.

President Biden has led on this issue before, but we need the administration’s leadership once again to extend ACP’s funding. Many Americans, including communities of color here in Lansing, depend on connectivity for their kids’ education and their families’ economic well-being. A fully connected America will win the 21st century, whereas an America that does not meet its potential in bridging gaps in broadband will be outpaced by the rest of the world. Many Lansing residents and many Michiganders are depending on this essential program; we need the White House and Congress to extend ACP’s funding to sustain the progress we have made in closing the digital divide.


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