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From the Executive Director: All Americans Should Have Access to Affordable Internet Service

By March 22, 2024June 26th, 2024No Comments

David Inoue

As we all know, one of the impacts of Covid was the rise in awareness of the importance of internet connectivity. Even with the return to in-person activities both in the workplace and our personal lives, virtual meetings are now a normal part of our lives. More than before, our children’s schoolwork is often supplemented with online videos, and assignments are completed online. In our personal lives, my children’s music lessons are even held virtually sometimes, and Zoom even has a different setting to accommodate the differing audio of music vs. conversation. Our reliance upon the internet is fully set.

The other revelation brought on by Covid was the lack of internet access for too many people. As schools shifted to distance learning in a matter of days, it was quickly found that many students did not have broadband access in the home, other than through a cell phone. The demands of two or more concurrent video conferences in a home overloaded broadband service purchased with the idea of maybe a single person streaming a movie at once, not two or three.

In one of President Joe Biden’s major legislative victories, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with $1.2 trillion in spending to support businesses, schools and more. Included in that spending was $14.2 billion, or one percent of the bill’s total funding, for the Affordable Connectivity Program, through which over 23 million people have received subsidies to subscribe to broadband internet services.

Unfortunately, because this is an election year, and there is a perception that the beneficiaries of this program vote for a certain party, Congress has been unable to pass additional funding. As a result, funding will run out in April, and subscribers have already been notified that they will be unable to continue to receive their subsidies.

There are two problems in high-speed internet access, availability and accessibility or affordability. This is similar to problems with health care, an area with which I am more familiar from my background.

For many end users, due to accessibility or affordability, they do not use high-speed internet. It may be available for them to subscribe to, but they choose not to due to the cost.

In health care, this would be like an individual living next door to a highly regarded academic medical center who doesn’t get treated for a health issue because they can’t afford to see the doctor. Ostensibly, health insurance should pay for their health care. In a way, the Affordable Connectivity Program has served as an insurance program for people to get subsidized broadband service.

On the other hand, by opening up the accessibility and affordability of high-speed internet, we revealed the places that face the problem of availability to a greater extent. People believing they now have access to high-speed internet found that they couldn’t find a reliable service to subscribe to.

As I have written before, this is the problem several areas of San Francisco Japantown face where only copper line-based DSL service is available at the modern-day equivalent of dial-up modem speeds relative to the maximum speeds available through cable or fiber optic. This is a problem that will take years to resolve as this is truly the infrastructure part of the legislation, but hopefully those capital dollars will be flowing to localities such as Japantown to ensure that everyone has available broadband connectivity.

In the meantime, we need to continue to ensure that everyone who can receive reliable broadband service can also access it. Congress must act to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable broadband so that no one is left behind. I urge all our readers to take a moment to call your member of Congress and urge them to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program immediately through the end of the current year.

David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.