News reports suggest that Democratic and Republican leaders are struggling to find areas of agreement as they negotiate a multi-trillion dollar Coronavirus relief and economic stimulus bill. Having just witnessed our worst quarterly GDP decline in recorded history, Congress understands further gridlock could push us deeper into recession. So here’s one idea that both sides should be able to embrace: an Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB).
House Democrats have proposed EBB as a temporary, $50-per-month benefit to help low-income and unemployed families get and stay connected to home broadband service for the duration of the pandemic. EBB’s potential cost — about $8 billion – is significant, but it would provide critical relief for unemployed workers trying to find a new job, kids trying to stay connected to online classes, or patients trying to access telemedicine services.
Conservatives may appreciate that the EBB builds on and complements longstanding private sector programs that have helped connect millions of low-income Americans to home broadband. While broadband providers expanded these programs in response to the pandemic, EBB could help plug remaining gaps and ensure a nationwide solution to a nationwide problem.
As our recent conversations about the “Homework Gap” have made clear, home broadband service is not a silver bullet that will magically make distance learning work across the board. Several other “gaps” divide poor and affluent students. We must improve digital literacy skills, adapt curricula for online learning, give teachers better training and support for the transition, and ensure kids have access to computers or tablets. But broadband is unquestionably a key piece of this overall puzzle, and the EBB is a smart public-private approach to ensuring more kids have access to home broadband before the new school year starts.
Best of all, the investments we make in broadband infrastructure and distance learning today could provide ongoing support to low-income students long after schools re-open. That’s an outcome both parties should be able to get behind.