WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, emphasized that increased resources to improve and expand broadband access across the United States must be included in the next COVID-19 relief package. Millions of Americans lack access to essential broadband and connectivity, and millions of students in the U.S. experience a homework gap due to insufficient connectivity at home.
“The COVID crisis has made it crystal clear: functioning broadband is absolutely necessary for every American home,” Senator Cantwell said. “We’ve spent a lot of time in this committee over the last several years talking about the persistent digital divide and the harms that come to both our economy and society. But we have not done enough to close that divide. And now, we are in the middle of a crisis where people who are disconnected from school, work, healthcare, friends, and family need access urgently. Staying connected is as critical as ever.”
Senator Cantwell highlighted significant racial and income disparities when it comes to broadband connectivity, noting that 25 percent of African American homes with school-aged children, and 23 percent of Hispanic homes with school-aged children, do not have access to high-speed internet at home. Overall, 35 percent of households with school-aged children and annual incomes below $30,000 do not have access to high-speed internet at home. According to report issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in May 2019, less than half of households in Indian Country have access to broadband service. This represents a nearly 27-point gap compared to non-Tribal rural areas.
Cantwell also discussed the homework gap in Washington state and new legislation she introduced yesterday with a number of colleagues to address the issue saying, “Statewide, 16 percent of families with children have no access to broadband. And, the Spokane school district recently did a survey of 34 different schools and found varying degrees of connectivity and concerns by teachers about who could fully engage in distance learning. That’s why I want to thank Senator Markey for his tireless efforts to close the homework gap. I’m proud to be a cosponsor of legislation that he has for emergency FCC E-Rate funding to address this need and try to close the gap.”
Finally, Senator Cantwell highlighted how equal broadband access can positively affect different sectors currently hit by the COVID-19 crisis: “Broadband activity can be a great equalizer in this country. But, if access is not there, then we can see right here and now during the COVID crisis the challenges to our education system, our healthcare system, and just basic contact with family and loved ones.”
Senator Cantwell has long fought for more robust, efficient, and cost-effective broadband connectivity for communities throughout Washington state and the rest of the country. This week, she joined Senator Markey in introducing comprehensive legislation to ensure all students have access to internet during the coronavirus crisis. In January, she introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that billions of dollars from a public auction of C-Band spectrum are invested to bridge the digital divide and enable next generation public safety services. In February, Cantwell introduced the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020 to accelerate the deployment of broadband services to Tribal communities and bridge the digital divide many of them face. In 2018, Cantwell helped secure $600 million in funding to boost rural broadband development, and before that she worked with the Makah Tribe and CenturyLink to bring broadband access to Neah Bay, one of the most remote parts of Washington state.