Reps. Sewell and Trone Lead 83 Members in Urging Congressional Leadership to Allocate Over $86 Billion for Broadband Expansion in a Future COVID-19 Relief Package
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Terri Sewell (AL-07) and David Trone (MD-06) led 82 of their colleagues in sending a letter today to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, urging them to include in a future COVID-19 relief package at least $86 billion for the deployment of high-speed broadband internet throughout the country.
“The coronavirus has only further highlighted the importance of high-speed, affordable internet, as lack of access has made it more difficult for Alabamians to learn from home, access telehealth service and telework during the pandemic,” Sewell said. “It is beyond time that high-speed internet is treated as a basic utility and rolled out to every community across the country. The letter provides the framework for a future relief package that acknowledges just how critical broadband access is and calls on leadership to make a significant investment in its implementation.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown that swaths of this country are being left behind by insufficient broadband infrastructure,” Trone said. “It’s time to invest in digital highways to bring the entire country into the 21st century and global economy. I want to thank Congresswoman Sewell and Whip Clyburn for joining in the effort to ensure this critical infrastructure is included in the next Congressional stimulus package.”
According to Microsoft, about 25 million Americans lack access to reliable, high-speed internet and about 3.3 million Alabama residents do not have the minimum broadband speeds needed for video conferencing or streaming at home. The divide disproportionately impacts rural residents, with 19 million of the 25 million Americans without broadband living in rural areas.
“Future stimulus packages should support the deployment of secure and resilient broadband, provide hotspots for students to close the homework gap and allow for distance learning, and expand access and affordability for unserved and underserved communities with sufficient speed and data that reflects American families’ increased reliance on internet access,” the lawmakers wrote. “We cannot wait to invest in high-speed broadband deployment necessary to reach every unserved and underserved American family, hospital, school and small business. … If we fail to invest now, millions of American will be disconnected from the economic recovery on the other side of this crisis.”
Racial disparities also exist America’s digital divide in access to and adoption of high-speed internet. According to a 2017 Joint Economic Committee report, white residents (82 percent) are more likely to have broadband in their homes than black (70 percent), Hispanic (74 percent) or American Indian (65 percent) residents.
Sewell and Trone were joined by 81 other Members in sending the letter, including: Tim Ryan (OH-13), Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Joseph D. Morelle (NY-25), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Jared Huffman (CA-02), André Carson (IN-07), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (VA-08), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), TJ Cox (CA-21), Ed Case (HI-01), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Chris Pappas (NH-01), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (IL-04), Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Mike Thompson (CA-05), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), Jim Costa (CA-16), Suzan K. DelBene (WA-01), Greg Stanton (AZ-09), Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (MP-AL), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Angie Craig (MN-02), Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), Kathleen M. Rice (NY-04), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (GU-AL), Cindy Axne (IA-03), Peter Welch (VT-AL), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Cindy Axne (IA-03), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), John B. Larson (CT-01), Ben Ray Luján (NM-03), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Dean Phillips (MN-03), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Lori Trahan (MA-03), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38), Darren Soto (FL-09), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Cedric L. Richmond (LA-02), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), Grace Meng (NY-06), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (MA-04), William R. Keating (MA-09), Dwight Evans (PA-03), John Garamendi (CA-03), Thomas R. Suozzi (NY-03), James E. Clyburn (SC-06), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Steven Horsford (NV-04), Joe Cunningham (SC-01), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Diana DeGette (CO-01) and Earl Blumenauer (OR-03).
Text of the letter is below and linked here.
May 12, 2020
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Leader McConnell, and Leader Schumer,
Thank you for the inclusion of broadband and telehealth provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support American workers, students, and patients who face being disconnected from essential services and information during this crisis. The lack of internet access was already a problem for millions of Americans, and the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the situation.
Over the last several weeks, our offices have heard countless stories from our constituents who are unable to telework, support their children’s virtual education, consult with doctors, connect with loved ones, or receive essential services because of the lack of broadband connectivity or affordability in their community. Over ten million Americans applied for unemployment insurance in March, with jobless numbers likely to increase. Schools across the country have closed and cancelled classes to slow the spread of COVID-19. We therefore believe that future stimulus packages should support the deployment of secure and resilient broadband, provide hotspots for students to close the homework gap and allow for distance learning, and expand access and affordability for unserved and underserved communities with sufficient speed and data that reflects American families’ increased reliance on internet access.
We believe that in the response to the COVID-19 crisis an overall investment of $86 billion is needed. This would expedite high-speed broadband deployment and expand funding to ensure that Americans who need broadband service can remain connected during this public health crisis and recovery. This includes expanded service for low-income consumers that meet the demands of telework, telehealth and telelearning. For instance, two tools ready to address these issues are the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) existing Lifeline and E-Rate educational connectivity programs.
The FCC’s Lifeline program serves some of the most vulnerable individuals and the economic downturn is certain to put additional pressure on the program. We believe supplemental funding to the Lifeline program – including emergency Lifeline subsidy and programmatic changes – would help individuals facing the greatest barriers remain connected to vital communication services.
Setting up and successfully utilizing distance learning tools can be a challenge in the best of times, but the Coronavirus has placed an added urgency in ensuring all students can connect to digital education resources. We believe an emergency expansion of the E-Rate educational connectivity programs is needed to help schools purchase hotspots and hotspot plans to loan to students that do not have a home Internet connection or cannot access school and community facilities (libraries, recreation centers).
While we employ interim measures to address the immediate need and bridge the connectivity gap in the short-term, we cannot wait to invest in high-speed broadband deployment necessary to reach every unserved and underserved American family, hospital, school and small business. This funding must increase investments in Rural Utility Service (RUS) programs like the ReConnect Program, Telecommunication Infrastructure Loans and Loan Guarantees, Community Connect Grants, and Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants. If we fail to invest now, millions of American will be disconnected from the economic recovery on the other side of this crisis.
We urge coordination among federal agencies to streamline the application process for assistance from federal programs and to ensure broadband-related support is being administered in an efficient, technology-neutral, and financially sustainable manner.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly clear that having access to high speed broadband is a necessity. We must invest in expanding affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access in the next emergency relief package. We thank you for your attention to this critical issue and looking forward to working in tandem to bring broadband to communities that are in desperate need of this essential tool for life in the 21st Century.