Biden's broadband program could be a winner for Delaware — if we do it right | Opinion – The News Journal


As a parent and the chair of the Delaware House of Representative’s Technology & Telecommunications Committee, I’m rooting for President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure program to succeed.  The bill will invest $65 billion to connect every American to broadband — the gateway to full participation in the Information Age.
And I’m proud that Gov. John Carney is leveraging federal recovery programs to make Delaware the nation’s leader in bringing broadband to every home and business.
For these initiatives to succeed, execution will matter just as much as vision.  We need to focus on our real challenges: wiring the remaining unserved areas and signing up non-subscribers. The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the strengths, as well as the gaps, in our nation’s high-speed internet system.
We have near-universal availability in our cities and suburbs — about 97% of the nation and 98% of Delaware are already wired. And speeds are getting faster: 88% of American homes have lightning-quick, gigabit speed service available.
Despite broadband’s successes, two big gaps still stand in the way our shared goal of universal connectivity. About 10% of rural Americans, including thousands of Delawareans, don’t have broadband available where they live. And even where world-class service is ubiquitous, almost 23% of Americans don’t subscribe.
To meet both challenges, we need the discipline and bipartisan cooperation to spend dollars where they’re needed — and avoid getting distracted by wasteful duplication, fanciful schemes, ideological overreach, or special interest lobbying.
First, we must keep to the infrastructure program’s bipartisan roadmap: prioritize buildout funds for unserved areas. Second, we must make the most of the transformative potential of the infrastructure bill’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides subsidies for low-income Americans.
Together with internet service providers’ lower-cost programs, this benefit could effectively remove affordability as a barrier for families to go online. Some 200,000 Delawareans — 21% of our population — are eligible for this benefit.
But fewer than one-quarter of eligible families have yet signed up for this opportunity — and many will need help learning the basic digital skills needed to navigate the program. This is where state and local leaders here in Delaware need to focus our resources.
We need to give the infrastructure bill a chance to work by resisting calls for overreaching policy proposals that could splinter the very foundation we’re building on.  We should follow the strong, smart safeguards in the infrastructure bill, which prioritize unserved areas and encourage free and fair competition between among providers and technologies.
In communities where fast broadband networks already exist, we need grassroots outreach and digital skills training programs to sign up the hardest-to-reach families for the home internet service that can lift up their lives and livelihoods.  We need to recruit and deploy trusted messengers – educators, clergy, community leaders and small business people – to go person-to person, door-to-door in low-income communities, promoting broadband adoption.
Biden’s historic broadband investments could usher in an era of unprecedented digital equity and opportunity — but only if federal agencies, state officials, and local leaders all work together and stay focused on the plan.
Rep. Krista Griffith represents the 12th District in the Delaware House of Representatives, which includes the areas of Fairfax, Hockessin, Greenville, and North Wilmington.

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