Photo provided by the office of Sonya Halpern.

In today’s interconnected world, high-speed internet has become vital for education, employment, healthcare, and essentially all forms of communication. Still, many Americans, especially those in marginalized communities, struggle to afford internet access. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) initiated by the Biden administration has made a significant impact on addressing this issue, providing internet to about 21 million households, including more than 660,000 here in Georgia. 

Less than two years since its creation, the program has already proven its ability to have a life-enhancing impact on Americans who would otherwise lack the connectivity they need. Unfortunately, the ACP faces an existential threat; it is on pace to run out of funding within months if the White House and Congress do not make extending its funding a priority. 

Sonya Halpern represents the 39th District of the Georgia Senate — made up of neighborhoods
across five cities in Fulton County, including Atlanta.

It’s impossible to overemphasize the life-altering, positive impact that delivering connectivity can have on marginalized communities and, inversely, the profoundly negative effect that an expiration of the ACP would have on the tens of millions of Americans who depend on it for broadband access. It is also critical that we acknowledge the ACP’s role in accelerating not only digital equity but racial equity as well. But that also means its expiration would disproportionately affect people of color, intensifying disparities in access to critical resources. A recent study found that the broadband affordability gap hits neighborhoods, with over 25% of households lacking broadband the hardest. These areas, termed “America’s most unconnected communities,” have significantly higher numbers of Black and Latinx households than the national average.

By dismantling cost barriers and equipping these communities with the connection they need, the ACP serves as a pivotal tool in beginning to level the playing field. Economically, the program enables low-income Americans to access online employment opportunities and acquire the necessary digital skills for a wide range of jobs, making them more competitive in the job market and become better integrated into the budding digital economy. A study conducted by the Obama Administration in 2016 reflected these positive impacts, finding that unemployed workers in households with internet were four percentage points more likely to be employed within a month of gaining access than those in households without internet.

As we saw during the pandemic, low or no internet access can have profoundly negative effects on educational attainment among vulnerable communities that already struggle to get the critical resources and support that are needed to succeed in the classroom. Consider the “Homework Gap,” in which students without home broadband and devices face educational setbacks because they lack the connection to access digital learning materials and online assignments. As is unfortunately often the case, the Homework Gap has a pronounced impact on students of color — roughly a third of Black, Latinx, and Native American families lack high-speed internet at home compared to around a fifth of Asian and white families. On average, students with no home access, slow home access, or cell-only access have approximately half a letter grade lower overall GPAs than students with fast home internet access. Given the rise in digital learning, this gap might widen even further if the ACP is allowed to expire. 

Having an internet connection is essential for modern society, and the Affordable Connectivity Program plays a critical role in making sure that all communities can get and stay connected. The program is also an example of the Biden Administration following through on its campaign promise to “Build Back Better,” an ambitious vision centered around addressing long-standing systemic challenges, fostering economic recovery, and ensuring equitable access to opportunities. The Affordable Connectivity Program isn’t just about internet access – it is a key instrument in tackling long-standing systemic inequities and a lifeline for tens of millions of Americans on the verge of the digital divide.

The Biden Administration deserves tremendous credit for spearheading this program — in a short period of time, it has already helped so many American households, but preserving it should remain a priority for the White House. To Build Back Better requires a sustained effort. I hope that we will not allow the historic progress in closing the digital divide over the past few years to go to waste. By leading the effort to protect the ACP and create a longer-term path to its existence, this administration will ensure that marginalized communities are put in a more equitable position for generations to come. 

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