6 Reasons to Celebrate Broadband in the Infrastructure Bill

6 Reasons to Celebrate Broadband in the Infrastructure Bill

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Chances are you’re using broadband to download and read this report. You might have also used broadband to look for a job, connect with your doctor, and submit your child’s homework to their teacher. But millions of unconnected Americans are missing out on the economic, health, and educational opportunities broadband provides. Luckily, with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, President Joe Biden and Congress made one of the largest investments ever in expanding broadband and closing the digital divide. The result? Massive wins for American families throughout the country.

In this brief, we explain what the infrastructure bill does to close the digital divide, and we lay out six tangible benefits for American families.

How the Infrastructure Bill Closes the Digital Divide

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes three central efforts to close the digital divide and connect everyone to broadband. Specifically:

$47.5 billion to bring broadband across the United States

The bulk ($42.5 billion) of broadband funding in the infrastructure bill will be used to establish the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, which will provide states with funds for broadband deployment and digital equity. All states will get an initial $100 million in funding, with more money being awarded using a formula based off the number of unserved areas per state. Unserved areas will be designated using updated Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maps set to be published this year. The initial wave of money is, in part, meant to help states set up plans for how the rest of the funds will be used as well as how the investments will advance economic and social wellbeing.1

The funding allocated to states presents a generational opportunity to connect every home in the nation. Congress put down a roadmap for how to reach this goal by requiring funds be prioritized first toward unserved areas, then underserved areas, and then anchor institutions. If states carefully follow this guidance, the bill’s historic investments will put the goal of universal availability in reach.

This funding model was designed with flexibility in mind. For example, in Pennsylvania, state leadership has emphasized that they are focused on expanding access to rural parts of the state, where most of the people who lack access to high-speed internet live.2 For New Mexico, increasing access in tribal lands and addressing “last mile” infrastructure that will connect all individual homes and businesses is top of mind.3

On top of the billions designated to states themselves, the infrastructure bill sets aside an additional $4 billion in federal funding for broadband deployment specifically in rural and tribal areas. This will help close the urban-rural broadband availability gap and expand internet access to households across the country. Finally, $1 billion is set aside for bridging the gap between served and underserved areas closing the so called “middle mile.”

$14.2 billion to make broadband more affordable

Investments in physically building out broadband infrastructure are only part of the solution—families also must be able to afford getting online. During the pandemic, 15% of home broadband users said they had trouble paying for their service even as broadband providers expanded their low-income discount programs and local leaders built public-private partnerships to affordably connect more people.4 No one should have to worry that paying their internet bill will prevent them from paying rent, buying food, or affording childcare. To address this issue, Congress created the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), which provided around 9 million households with funds to help afford broadband by the time the program ended on December 31, 2021.5

The infrastructure bill makes that assistance permanent by creating the Affordability Connectivity Program (ACP), a benefit which will provide up to $30 per month for qualifying households and $75 per month for households on certain tribal lands. Any household that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty line is automatically eligible for the benefit. These benefits can be applied to any range of broadband plans, including the discounted plans many providers already offer low-income families.

$2.8 billion to address remaining digital equity challenges

Even though affordability was addressed through the EBB and ACP, many households still have not adopted broadband. This “adoption gap” is driven by a number of integrated factors, from literacy gaps to housing insecurity and language barriers. As a way to overcome these barriers, neighborhood-based “digital navigators” can support disadvantaged communities through outreach and education campaigns. The infrastructure bill included $2.8 billion for Digital Equity grant programs to fund this vitally important on-the-ground programming to help people in every community acquire the skills needed to thrive in the digital economy

What this Means for American Families

The infrastructure bill’s massive investment in broadband will have a significant impact on American families across the country. Specifically, it:

  1. Makes health care more accessible.
  2. Boosts K-12 learning.
  3. Creates jobs.
  4. Connects rural Americans to economic opportunity.
  5. Provides opportunities to boost incomes.
  6. Increases equity.

#1: Makes health care more accessible.

Key Fact: 40% of people expect to use telehealth services in the future.6

Telehealth provides people with quality care from the comfort of their home. It helps patients spend less money and time getting to their appointments, reduces the need for taking time off work, and grants access to providers that might be otherwise unavailable. The pandemic only further proved the vital importance of telehealth services. The number of health care professionals and patients using virtual appointments surged while people tried to maintain their distance.

Telehealth isn’t just a temporary substitute for in person care. Forty percent of people expect to use virtual health care services going forward, a big jump from the 11% that used telehealth appointments before COVID-19.7 Remote monitoring also helps health care professionals intervene far quicker when health issues arise and makes it possible for more diverse populations to be included in clinical trials.

Yet, for those without a broadband connection, that lack of connectivity remains a significant barrier to people’s ability to use telehealth services and access its benefits. A recent survey from the Bipartisan Policy Center found that for one-third of rural residents and one-fourth of urban residents, the lack of a high-speed internet connection and computer access were obstacles to getting virtual care.8 Further, connecting households to broadband is especially important in rural America, where years of hospital closures mean many people live far distances from the nearest healthcare facility.9 Addressing both broadband availability and affordability will help households access quality health care more easily and spend less of their valuable time doing so.

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#2: Boosts K-12 learning.

Key Fact: 12 million K-12 students are currently caught in the digital divide.10

Even before the pandemic demanded an abrupt shift to digital learning, many children without broadband were already falling behind. Over the years, online lessons and assignments have become a key part of how children learn, with 70% of American teachers assigning online homework pre-pandemic.11 The “homework gap,” or the barriers students face when trying to complete homework without reliable internet, has been creating an uneven playing field for years. The Pew Research Center found that nearly 15% of households with school-age children did not have a high-speed internet connection at home.12 And without home internet, these students find it hard to keep up. Students with reliable internet at home are more likely to graduate and consistently score higher on tests.13

The homework gap also plays a significant role in deepening existing inequities for low-income, rural, and minority children.14 Over a third of children whose annual household income is below $30,000 don’t have internet at home.15 Rural children are twice as likely as urban children to lack sufficient internet for remote learning. And children of color make up 55% of unconnected students.16

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In efforts to prevent students from falling behind, many school districts used CARES Act funding to address immediate concerns of adoption and affordability. Their efforts closed an astounding 20% to 40% of the K-12 connectivity divide.17 Yet still 12 million K-12 students remain unconnected today.18 The infrastructure bill’s investment in broadband means that many of these short-term measures that have helped get millions online will be continued, while greater efforts are made to permanently close the gap.

#3: Creates jobs.

Key Fact: Digitally-connected small businesses are three times more likely to create jobs.19

Expanding access to broadband is critical to creating a more inclusive workforce and driving economic growth. Without broadband, workers face limited job options, and places with weak internet infrastructure struggle to attract workers and businesses. In fact, Deloitte found that a 10-point increase in broadband access in 2014 would have created more than 875,000 new jobs and added $186 billion in economic output by 2019.20

A recent example of this can be found by examining small businesses during the pandemic. It’s well documented that the pandemic forced a lot of shoppers online; a recent survey found almost half of Americans shop more online today than they did before the pandemic.21 And these virtual sales are what allowed many small businesses to stay afloat. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 27% more small businesses are online than were before, and 87% of those opening a new business say they will be primarily online.22 Businesses benefit from being connected. In fact, digitally engaged small firms are three times more likely to create jobs and see four times the revenue growth than those businesses with low digital engagement.23

#4: Connects rural Americans to economic opportunity.

Key Fact: One out of every four households in rural America does not have broadband.24

While investments have been made in bringing broadband to rural America over the past decade, rural Americans still lag behind their urban counterparts when it comes to connectivity.25 For many people living in rural parts of this country, getting online is simply not an option. And for others, their service is too slow and unreliable to be counted on.26 Analysis of the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey finds that 75% of households in rural counties have broadband, while Pew Research Center finds the number to be 72% and the Center for American Progress estimates 80% — all of which are well below households in non-rural counties.27

Connecting more rural families to broadband could have massive benefits. Researchers from the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center found that improved digital connectivity among rural businesses could mean the creation of 360,000 more jobs and up to $47 billion added to the US economy.28 It could also help bring more people to rural areas, revitalizing communities left behind. A 2020 survey found that more than a third of respondents saw limited internet access as a barrier to moving to a rural area.29 This is at a time when nearly 28% of professional workers expect to be fully remote within five years.30 For communities, broadband is key to attract and retain the next generation of workers.

#5: Provides opportunities to boost incomes.

Key Fact: Median household income in well-connected counties is twice as much as counties with lower rates of connection.31

In counties where broadband adoption is low, so are incomes. The median household income in counties where less than half of households have broadband is just $33,000 a year. Meanwhile, in counties where over 85% of residents have broadband, the average median household income is $76,000—more than twice as high.32 Access to reliable and affordable broadband can help connect people with good jobs and allow entrepreneurship to thrive. Without it, too many low-income workers face greater barriers to well-paying jobs.

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Further, in places where many households lack broadband, people are much more likely to be out of work. In 2019, counties where less than half of households had broadband saw an average unemployment rate of 8%. That is two times higher than counties where more than 85% of households had broadband.33

While this economic benefit won’t happen overnight, the broadband investments give under-connected communities throughout the country the opportunity to grow their economies.

#6: Increases equity.

Key Fact: Broadband adoption in majority-white counties is 22% higher than in majority-Black counties.

People of color are disproportionately unconnected from broadband. In majority-white counties, the average percentage of households using broadband is 76%. This is far higher than the 62% adoption rate in majority-Black counties, 60% in majority-Native American counties, and 69% in majority-Hispanic counties.34 Also, counties where more than three-fourths of the population are white have broadband adoption rates over 25% higher than those counties where less than a quarter of residents are white.35

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For people of color living in rural areas, inequities of race and geography compound one another. In the rural South specifically, Black residents are twice as likely as their white neighbors to lack home internet.36 For many Native Americans living on tribal lands, service is incredibly expensive and hard to come by. One study found that only 49% of residents of tribal lands have home internet, and that some service plans cost upwards of $100 a month.37 Leaving communities of color unconnected builds further barriers to economic opportunity and exacerbates disparities in access to critical services.

Conclusion

The infrastructure bill sets a bold agenda for bringing America’s roads, bridges, and electric grid into the 21stcentury. And let’s not forget the massive investment it makes in broadband. The billions it invests in closing the digital divide will drive economic growth, broaden access to health care and education, support entrepreneurship, and help connect workers to better jobs—all while breaking down the numerous barriers that have left low-income households, rural residents, and communities of color under-connected for far too long.

Topics
  • Infrastructure31

Endnotes

  1. de Wit, Kathryn. “Infrastructure Bill Passed by Senate Includes Historic, Bipartisan Broadband Provisions.” Pew Research Center, 30 Aug. 2021, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2021/08/30/infrastructure-bill-passed-by-senate-includes-historic-bipartisan-broadband-provisions. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  2. Locurto, Tina. “What Pennsylvania’s Broadband Bill Means for One County.” The York Dispatch. Government Technology.com, 22 Dec. 2021, https://www.govtech.com/network/what-pennsylvanias-broadband-bill-means-for-one-county. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  3. Erickson, Chris. “A lack of access to broadband a barrier to development in New Mexico.” Las Cruces Bulletin. 2 Aug. 2021, https://www.lascrucesbulletin.com/stories/a-lack-of-access-to-broadband-a-barrier-to-development-in-new-mexicoa-lack-of-access-to,7753, Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  4. McClain, Colleen. “34% of lower-income home broadband users have had trouble paying for their service amid COVID-19.” Pew Research Center, 3 Jun. 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/03/34-of-lower-income-home-broadband-users-have-had-trouble-paying-for-their-service-amid-covid-19/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  5. Universal Service Administrative Co. “Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Enrollments and Claims Tracker.” Dec. 2021, https://www.usac.org/about/emergency-broadband-benefit-program/emergency-broadband-benefit-program-enrollments-and-claims-tracker/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  6. Oleg Bestsennyy et al. “Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality.” McKinsey & Company. 9 Jul. 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality. 1 Mar. 2022.

  7. Oleg Bestsennyy et al. “Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality.” McKinsey & Company. 9 Jul. 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality. 1 Mar. 2022.

  8. Sutton, Jazmyne. “Telehealth Visit Use Among U.S. Adults.” Bipartisan Policy Center, Survey, Aug. 2021. https://bipartisanpolicy.org/download/?file=/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/SSRS-Telehealth-Report_confidential_FINAL_08.02.21-1.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  9. Schadelbauer, Rick. “Anticipating Economic Returns of Rural Telehealth.” NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. https://www.ntca.org/sites/default/files/documents/2017-12/SRC_whitepaper_anticipatingeconomicreturns.pdf

  10. Titilayo Tinubu et al. “Looking Back, Looking Forward: What it will take to permanently close the K-12 digital divide.” Boston Consulting Group, Common Sense Media and Southern Education Foundation, Jan. 2021. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/pdfs/final_-_what_it_will_take_to_permanently_close_the_k-12_digital_divide_vfeb3.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  11. Wong, Alia. “Why Millions of Teens Can’t Finish Their Homework.” The Atlantic, 30 Oct. 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/10/lacking-internet-millions-teens-cant-do-homework/574402/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  12. Auxier, Brooke and Monica Anderson. “As schools close due to coronavirus, some U.S. students face a digital ‘homework gap.’” Pew Research Center, 16 Mar. 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/16/as-schools-close-due-to-the-coronavirus-some-u-s-students-face-a-digital-homework-gap/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  13. Associated Press. “’Homework gap’ shows millions of students lack home internet.” NBC News, 10 Jun. 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/homework-gap-shows-millions-students-lack-home-internet-n1015716. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  14. Associated Press. “’Homework gap’ shows millions of students lack home internet.” NBC News, 10 Jun. 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/homework-gap-shows-millions-students-lack-home-internet-n1015716. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  15. Auxier, Brooke and Monica Anderson. “As schools close due to the coronavirus, some U.S. students face a digital ‘homework gap,’” Pew Research Center, 16 Mar. 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/16/as-schools-close-due-to-the-coronavirus-some-u-s-students-face-a-digital-homework-gap/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  16. Titilayo Tinubu et al. “Looking Back, Looking Forward: What it will take to permanently close the K-12 digital divide.” Boston Consulting Group, Common Sense Media and Southern Education Foundation, Jan. 2021. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/pdfs/final_-_what_it_will_take_to_permanently_close_the_k-12_digital_divide_vfeb3.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  17. Titilayo Tinubu et al. “Looking Back, Looking Forward: What it will take to permanently close the K-12 digital divide.” Boston Consulting Group, Common Sense Media and Southern Education Foundation, Jan. 2021. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/pdfs/final_-_what_it_will_take_to_permanently_close_the_k-12_digital_divide_vfeb3.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  18. Titilayo Tinubu et al. “Looking Back, Looking Forward: What it will take to permanently close the K-12 digital divide.” Boston Consulting Group, Common Sense Media and Southern Education Foundation, Jan. 2021. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/pdfs/final_-_what_it_will_take_to_permanently_close_the_k-12_digital_divide_vfeb3.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  19. Deloitte. “Connecting Small Businesses in the US 2018.” Report, 2018. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/us-tmt-connected-small-businesses-Jan2018.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  20. Walsh, Bryan. “The economic benefits of closing the digital divide.” Axios, 5 May. 2021, https://www.axios.com/economic-benefits-broadband-access-70b78781-3036-4dd4-8dd4-ff39bf081fcd.html. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  21. Oliverso, Feli. “47% of Americans Shop Online More Often Than Before the Pandemic.” ValuePenguin, Lending Tree, 16 Jul. 2021, https://www.valuepenguin.com/news/shopping-post-pandemic. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022;

    Thomas, Lauren. “Black Friday shopping in stores drops 28% from pre-pandemic levels as shoppers spread spending throughout the season.” CNBC, 27 Nov. 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/27/black-friday-shopping-in-stores-drops-28percent-from-pre-pandemic-levels.html. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  22. Guta, Michael. “Nearly 1 in 4 New Business Owners Plan to Use a 100% Remote Workforce.” Small Business Trends, 16 Sep. 2020, https://smallbiztrends.com/2020/09/quickbooks-remote-work-survey.html. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  23. Deloitte. “Connecting Small Businesses in the US 2018.” Report, 2018. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/us-tmt-connected-small-businesses-Jan2018.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  24. Author’s Calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Dec. 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs, Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

    The American Community Survey uses the Race/Ethnicity grouping “American Indian and Alaska Native.” For the sake of this analysis and report, we refer to this group as Native Americans.

    The American Community Survey data also includes Puerto Rican municipalities. For this report Puerto Rican territories were excluded from county-level data analysis but the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will include funding for Puerto Rico. Further estimates on what funding Puerto Rico might receive can be found in this press release.

  25. Deloitte. “Broadband for all: charting a path to economic growth.” Apr. 2021, https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/process-and-operations/us-broadband-for-all-economic-growth.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  26. Casselman, Ben. “Rural Areas Are Looking for Workers. They Need Broadband to Get Them. The New York Times, 17 May 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/17/business/infrastructure-rural-broadband.html. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  27. Author’s Calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Dec. 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs, Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.Rural categorizations come from the USDA continuum code. For the purposes of this paper, non-metropolitan counties were categorized as rural while metropolitan counties were categorized as non-rural.

    One county included in USDA codes (Bedford City VA) downgraded from county status in 2015 and thus is excluded from ACS analysis. In 2015 Wade Hampton Census Area was renamed Kusilvak Census Area and Shannon County, South Dakota was renamed Oglala Lakota County;

    Vogels, Emily A. “Some digital divides persist between rural, urban and suburban America.” Pew Research Center, 19 Aug. 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/08/19/some-digital-divides-persist-between-rural-urban-and-suburban-america/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

    Willingham, Caius Z. and Areeba Haider. “Rural Broadband Investments Promote an Inclusive Economy.” Center for American Progress, 12 Jul. 2021, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/rural-broadband-investments-promote-inclusive-economy/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  28. Gallardo, Roberto and Indraneel Kumar. “Job Creation From Rural Broadband Companies.” Ourdue University Center for Regional Development, Aug. 2019, https://pcrd.purdue.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/007-Job-Creation-From-Rural-Broadband-Companies-3.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  29. Willingham, Caius Z. and Areeba Haider. “Rural Broadband Investments Promote an Inclusive Economy.” Center for American Progress, 12 Jul. 2021, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/rural-broadband-investments-promote-inclusive-economy/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  30. Ozimek, Adam. “Future Workforce Report 2021: How Remote Work is Changing Businesses Forever.” Upwork, 28 Sep. 2021, https://www.upwork.com/research/future-workforce-report. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022. 

  31. Author’s Calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Dec. 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs, Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  32. Author’s Calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Dec. 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs, Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  33. Author’s Calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Dec. 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs, Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  34. Author’s Calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Dec. 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs, Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  35. Author’s Calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Dec. 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs, Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  36. Shivaram, Deepa. “More than 1 in 3 rural Black southerners lack home internet access, a new study finds.” NPR, 6 Oct. 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/10/06/1043666017/internet-access-rural-black-southerners-digital-infrastructure-divide. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.

  37. Park, Claire. “The Cost of Connectivity in the Navajo Nation.” New America, 12 Oct. 2020, https://www.newamerica.org/oti/reports/cost-connectivity-navajo-nation/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.  

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