Delivering on the Promise of Broadband & Access to Technology for All Americans
Connectivity is a path to greater opportunity. In today’s world, broadband and fluency with technology fuel economic growth, provide access to the world’s knowledge, promote skill development, and build stronger and more connected communities.
During President Obama’s seven years in office, we’ve seen unprecedented gains in wiring our nation for the future, including a tripling of the average home Internet speed, covering 98 percent of Americans with fast 4G/LTE mobile broadband, and doubling the number of schools connected to high-speed Internet. As a result, we’ve seen a technology sector that spans coast to coast, the creation of millions of high-paying jobs, and a revolution in the way students learn in the classroom.
To further our efforts, and to ensure that low-income Americans can seize the opportunities of the digital age, President Obama is unveiling ConnectALL, an initiative to help Americans from across the country, at every income level, get online and have the tools to take full advantage of the Internet. Today, the Administration is submitting its recommendation that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reform a $1.5 billion per year Reagan-era phone subsidy program to turn it into a 21st Century national broadband subsidy to help low-income Americans get online. Alongside this FCC filing, the Administration is releasing a new study on the economic importance of broadband and calling for nonprofits, businesses, technology experts, and Government to join a national effort to reach the ConnectALL goal of connecting 20 million more Americans to broadband by 2020.
BUILDING ON SEVEN YEARS OF BROADBAND GROWTH
Today’s announcement rounds out seven years of progress expanding broadband, combining smart policy with unprecedented investment to deliver faster connectivity to more Americans in their homes, through their mobile devices, and where they learn and work. As a result, tens of millions more Americans are online now than when the President took office; his ConnectED Initiative has given over 20 million more K-12 students access to broadband in their classrooms and libraries; and 28 communities have come together under the banner of ConnectHome to ensure kids living in public housing have a reliable way to get online and do their homework.
ENSURING LOW-INCOME AMERICANS AREN’T LEFT BEHIND
Even with the significant progress we’ve made, more work remains to help all Americans access the economic benefits of broadband, especially low-income households. Families earning under $25,000 a year are about half as likely to have the Internet at home as families that are the most well-off. A new Issue Brief released today by the Council of Economic Advisers outlines how being offline is more than inconvenient; it creates specific economic costs, especially for job-seekers unable to access online job search tools. Today, because of a digital divide, low-income Americans have a harder time accessing these tools, and unemployed workers without home Internet access take a longer time to find employment. Given these costs, we cannot be satisfied if broadband is out of reach for anyone in America, and today, President Obama is acting to make that a part of the past.
So today, the President is launching ConnectALL to ensure more Americans have the broadband they need to get a job, engage their community, and deliver opportunity to their children by:
- Increasing the affordability of broadband for low-income Americans. Today, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), on behalf of the Administration, is filing comments in support of the FCC’s effort to reform its Lifeline program to address the way people communicate in the 21st century. When Lifeline was first created under President Reagan, it was designed to provide low-income Americans with financial assistance to purchase affordable phone service, so the most vulnerable Americans were connected to the rest of the country. In 2005, President George W. Bush expanded the program to include mobile phones. Now in 2016, when we use the Internet to communicate more than ever, it is time to modernize Lifeline and make sure that all Americans can access the broadband services they need. The Lifeline reforms the Administration is recommending today would give the 12 million households currently using the subsidy for phone service immediate help paying their monthly broadband bill. And it has the potential to benefit tens of millions more. The modernization we are outlining:
- Encourages consumer choice. The subsidy should be flexible enough to let low-income Americans choose the service plans that best fit their families’ needs — whether voice, data plans, or in-home broadband. We are recommending a direct and portable benefit that consumers can use to make their own choices about what services they need and who they get those services from.
- Coordinates Enrollment with other Government Programs. Those eligible for Lifeline are oftentimes eligible for other government assistance. Coordination will increase the efficacy and functionality of the program’s administration while also letting those who need it most know about the resources available to them. The proposed reforms would allow Americans to obtain education about or simultaneously enroll themselves in the revamped Lifeline program when they enroll in another state-administered public assistance program, such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF).
- Initiating a national service effort to deliver digital literacy skills. To increase access to digital literacy training, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the Federal agency that engages millions of Americans in service and in developing community solutions, and theInstitute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which is the primary source of Federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums, are collaborating on a Digital Literacy Pilot Project. AmeriCorps VISTA members will support libraries, museums and associated community organizations located in tribal and rural communities. The goal is to build capacity and increase digital literacy efforts, complementing the Administration’s work to increase broadband adoption among low-income households.
- Additionally, Make School, a two-year college alternative that teaches advanced coding and product development, is announcing the creation of a new tool that will teach the basic, but vital, skills needed to get people online and experiencing the benefits that the Internet has to offer.
- Increasing access to affordable devices. In order to promote the reuse of equipment no longer needed by the federal government, the General Services Administration (GSA) will lead an inter-agency effort to re-engineer the Computers for Learning program to expand access to devices for more organizations that help provide digital literacy and training for low-income Americans. Computers for Learning allows schools and nonprofit organizations to take advantage of unneeded federal computer equipment. In 2014, 38 Federal Agencies donated thousands of devices, and the program’s reforms are designed to significantly increase these numbers.
- Announcing the development of a tool to support broadband planning. To empower more communities with strategies to support and accelerate local broadband planning efforts, NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program is launching the Community Connectivity Initiative, which will create a comprehensive online assessment tool to help community leaders identify critical broadband needs and connect them with expertise, tools, and resources for overcoming the challenges to expanded broadband deployment and adoption.
- The American Library Association; Blandin Foundation; ConnectME Authority; EveryoneOn; ICMA, The International City/County Management Association; National Association of Counties; National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors; National Digital Inclusion Alliance; National League of Cities; New America’s Open Technology Institute; Next Century Cities, NetworkMe, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association; Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHELB); and US Ignite have come on board to collaborate with NTIA to design and develop the tool.
- In addition, initial communities who will support the development of the tool include Ammon, ID; Arvada, CO; Baltimore, MD; Bettendorf, IA; Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Greenbelt, MD ; Hopewell, VA.; Hot Springs, AK.; Hurst, TX; Kansas City, MO.; Kenmore, WA; Lenexa, KS.; Oak Harbor, WA; Putnam, CT; SeaTac, WA; Red Wing, MN; Sammamish, WA; and Seattle, WA.
- The Community Connectivity Initiative will build on NTIA’s extensive work with communities across the country, supporting broadband planning, infrastructure deployment, public computer centers, and a wide range of community applications.
- Bringing together private sector companies helping to deliver affordable connectivity. Companies are also lending their support for low-income families in their service areas. Today, Cox Communications is announcing it will host more than 200 events across the nation for low-income K-12 families, automatically qualifying attendees for their low-cost broadband option. Later this year, the company will partner with Univision to promote internet adoption through live programming, public service announcements and community events in such markets as Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Diego.
- Marshaling philanthropic support for digital inclusion. To increase access to resources to support digital inclusion efforts under way in communities across the country, later this year the Administration will convene leaders in the philanthropic, non-profit, and private sectors to a summit focused on building on our progress to date and delivering on ConnectALL’s vision of connecting 20 million more Americans to broadband by 2020.
Manager of Stakeholder Relations and Outreach
Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce