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Closing the Digital Divide Americas Push for Universal Internet Access

“Internet for All,” as the Biden administration put it, will soon be a reality if America keeps its priorities straight. During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden set a high bar, “We’re going to buy American,” as the U.S. spends billions of dollars on new broadband connections. This is a smart strategy to create American jobs and boost the U.S. economy, but our leaders must not sacrifice speed in the race to close the digital divide in cases where “Buy American” isn’t yet a realistic option.

Under the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, for example, every participating state — as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia — will receive a minimum of $100 million for internet infrastructure, with more to be doled out based on each state’s proportional number of unserved locations. Cartesian estimates that fiber providers will contribute another $22 billion in funds for $64 billion in total, which is “sufficient to achieve the program’s availability goal” of making broadband service “available to all eligible locations.” That’s a first.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law by President Biden on November 15, 2021, also included $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which has helped over 17 million American families pay for a home broadband connection that they otherwise would struggle to afford. What’s more, the bill set aside $2.75 billion for Digital Equity programs; $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program; $2 billion for the Rural Utilities Service Distance Learning, Telemedicine and Broadband Program; and $1 billion for a new Middle Mile grant program. This truly is broadband’s moment in the sun.

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