WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — As the Biden-Harris administration continued its tour Thursday to promote the president’s infrastructure plan, a House committee examined an issue at the heart of the package: improving high-speed internet access for all Americans.
During a virtual hearing, members on a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee connected in a bipartisan way over closing the digital divide in the U.S., stressing broadband impacts everything from racial justice to economic opportunity to health care.
“There’s still too many Americans who do not adopt broadband,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-WA.
“We’ve got to address this,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ.
But the right way to do that remains up for debate.
“The number one reason people say they don’t have broadband is they don’t want it,” said Dr. George Ford, the chief economist at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies.
Ford argues the majority of Americans, from rich to poor and urban to rural areas, can access affordable high-speed internet. But Joi Chaney with the National Urban League said there are still availability issues, and people won’t adopt what they can’t understand or pay for.
“It does not help much to have lightning-fast broadband at door if cannot afford to subscribe to it,” Chaney told lawmakers.
Congress passed a temporary bipartisan broadband benefit to help struggling families afford high-speed internet during the pandemic. There’s now a partisan push to make it permanent.
“To ensure that the extreme poor will be able to participate in a 21st century economy,” Chaney said.
But Ford estimates the large investment would have small returns.
“You’ll have some increase in adoption, and you’ll be disappointed that it didn’t cure the whole problem,” he said. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are also split over federally regulating the price broadband companies can charge for services.