The digital divide in the United States has grown increasingly apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic. From virtual school to video doctor visits, if one-fifth of American homes do not have an internet connection, one-fifth of American homes are being left behind in the digital age. To help bridge the divide and work toward leveling the playing field for Americans, the Internet for All initiative was introduced as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that President Biden signed on November 15, 2021. This legislation included $1.2 trillion in funding for endeavors like improving roads and bridges, upgrading airports and ports, and increasing access to high-speed internet for everyone in the United States.
The latter facet of the bill, known as the Internet for All initiative, has $65 billion earmarked to bring affordable, reliable high-speed internet to everyone in the United States, as well as increase digital literacy, expand telehealth options, and create jobs. To achieve those goals, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is spearheading three programs within the Internet for All initiative: Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program and State Digital Equity Act.
The BEAD Program includes $42.5 billion in grants to be distributed across America, setting up critical infrastructure to connect everyone, even those individuals who are currently without high-speed internet. The BEAD Program will require a five-year action plan be submitted by states, territories, etc., to outline their plan to connect all residents within the region. By working with local and regional entities on these plans, it will be guaranteed that everyone is included.
The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program will reduce the cost of connection for unserved and underserved communities throughout the United States by expanding internet infrastructure and increasing competition to drive down prices, as well as create better connections.
The State Digital Equity Act will provide digital literacy training to those populations most in need, such as older Americans and rural communities. By providing this training, communities can better determine their own broadband needs, as well as access online social services for those who need them.
Additionally, the administration has worked with internet service providers to negotiate low-cost internet connection options at $30 or less per month to ensure that along with increasing the infrastructure of the internet, people will be able to afford to have a connection.
Access to high-speed internet is critical for individuals to be able to work, learn, and compete in the current 21stcentury economy, as well as to participate in everyday life.
While the United States aims to close the digital divide in the country that was made apparent by the Covid-19 pandemic, internationally, the divide remains a problem to be solved. Nearly half of all people in the world lack internet access, especially in least developed countries. This means 3.7 billion people are unable to benefit from the digital economy, access critical healthcare information, and participate in online education. United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said, “Digital technologies can reinforce and indeed accelerate inequalities. As the world becomes more digitally dependent, it threatens to exclude those that remain disconnected…Without decisive action, the digital divide will become the new face of inequality.”