For many of us, high-speed internet serves as a necessity in daily life – granting us access to critical services for employment, education, telehealth and more. And as an educator, I know first hand how important access to reliable internet is, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring everyone has access to this necessity should be a priority, but millions of American households still lack connectivity, primarily due to an inability to afford the cost of a subscription. That’s why it’s so concerning that the best tool at our disposal for Americans to overcome the issue of broadband affordability – the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) – is on pace to run out of funds by early next year. Thankfully, the White House has urged Congress to include funding for the program in their next spending package- now Congress must do their job and vote to make it a reality.
Right now, over 221,000 households in Nevada rely on ACP to get online. This means without renewed funding, these Nevadans will lose access to daily necessities that many of us take for granted. It is especially heartbreaking to think of students losing access to broadband, especially after seeing firsthand what a critical impact the ACP had on the educational attainment of so many low income and rural students. During the pandemic, not having access to the internet left students falling behind simply because they could not access broadband at home. When most classes resumed in person this didn’t mean that students were all back to the same playing field. The time without high speed internet during remote learning had a long term, oftentimes insurmountable impact on far too many students.
We also know who the digital divide impacts the hardest- communities of color. In 2018, 36% of Black children and 34% of Hispanic children lacked access to the internet at home, compared to only 20% of White children. The ACP has played a key role in bridging this gap by providing much-needed financial assistance for service and devices to low-income households which analysis has shown has a pronounced impact on communities of color. By making internet access more affordable and accessible, the program has significantly contributed to empowering communities of color and leveling the digital playing field, and therefore making our education system more equitable as well.
We should be doing everything possible to ensure the success of Nevada’s students, and that includes access to reliable, high-speed internet. I applaud the Biden administration for making the extension of this much-needed program a priority. We cannot allow the progress we have made through the ACP to disappear while millions of low-income students lose the connectivity that they depend upon. I urge Congress to act and fund the ACP.
Marla Hickman is a former Clark County school district teacher.