Biden secures deal to lower internet costs for low-income households
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US President Joe Biden has secured commitments from 20 of the nation's internet service providers (ISP) to lower internet costs for 48 million households nationwide.
Biden and US Vice President Kamala Harris will unveil the agreement on Monday at a ceremony with executives from the companies that have agreed to cutting prices or increasing internet speeds for millions of people across the country.
The commitments are part of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which is an aspect of the Biden administration's infrastructure law passed with support from Republicans and Democrats last year. Its goal is to help low-income households reduce their internet bills by as much as $30 (£24) a year.
Currently, 27.6 million (22.5 per cent) of US households don’t have home internet, and over a quarter-million still use dial-up internet.
The increasing rate of digitalisation of services such as education and healthcare brought forth by the pandemic has only served to widen the digital divide. A study by the US’ National Assessment of Educational Progress suggests that poor students are less likely to have the equipment needed to attend online school. The article stated that 7 per cent of eighth-graders who are poor don’t have internet access compared to only 1.6 per cent of non-poor students. Without reliable internet, these economic inequalities will only continue to grow.
"From large providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon serving dozens of states, to smaller providers serving rural areas like Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee and Comporium in North Carolina, the commitments will allow tens of millions of ACP-eligible households to receive high-speed internet at no cost," the White House said.
With the new commitments, tens of millions of households will receive internet service free of charge, it said. Receiving this financial support will also have no impact on families' ability to receive other federal assistance or take part in programmes such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, the Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program, Pell Grants, or others.
To date, an estimated 11.5 million households have signed up to participate in the ACP.
Since taking office, the Biden administration has eyed different proposals to close the digital divide in the USA, which has persisted for years but widened as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The issue, however, has sparked sharp political fights over how much money to spend, where to spend it and what types of internet access Americans need to stay competitive in the 21st century.
"We thought that it was important to try to get these companies to reduce their prices, at least for ACP-eligible households, 48 million eligible households in the country, and they did so voluntarily," an administration official told reporters in a call, stressing that the companies will not receive special treatment or any type of federal funding as a result of the deal.
Comcast Cable CEO and president David Watson said in a statement that the programme represents "a historic opportunity to close the digital divide by empowering more Americans to get online and connect to our increasingly digital world."
According to the data provided by the White House, the 20 ISPs participating in Monday's commitment offer coverage for 80 per cent of the country's population and 50 per cent of the nation's rural population.
To spread awareness, the administration will launch a new URL, GetInternet.gov, allowing eligible households to connect to internet providers and sign up for the ACP, launch outreach programmes through federal programmes whose beneficiaries qualify for subsidised internet, and partner with cities and states to get the word out.
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