February 28, 2024 1:20 pm
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Opinion

Opinion | Broadband Access is Critical to our Most Underserved Communities

Credit: iStock

By Shelbie Swartz, Interim Executive Director, Battle Born Progress

In Nevada, like the rest of the country, access to the internet is not a luxury- it’s essential. In order to succeed in school, identifying job opportunities, accessing health care and so much more, broadband access is critical. Thankfully, The Affordable Connectivity Program, also known as the ACP, created as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, has helped take a step towards closing the digital divide. In fact, over 220,000 households in Nevada alone are able to take advantage of this program to help them get online. Unfortunately, it is estimated that the program will run out of funding in 2024, meaning that we must identify a way to preserve this program to keep hundreds of thousands of Nevadans, and millions of Americans across the country, online. 

By losing the ACP and cutting off so many people’s access to the internet, we are also disproportionately impacting communities of color and traditionally underserved communities. Communities commonly known as the most unconnected across the country have more Black and Latino households than the national average. In Nevada, our tribal communities are also at a disadvantage. In fact, some tribal communities have broadband access as low as 30%. This is unacceptable and will only be made worse by the ACP expiring. 

A lack of access to broadband across the country also stands in the way of low-income and rural Nevadans from receiving the same high-quality health services as others. Not only does the ACP ensure that low-income Nevadans can access broadband, it means that underserved communities, who many times live further from the nearest healthcare provider, or don’t have the means to travel to many appointments in person, can access safe, equitable care from home.

Another place the broadband disparity is felt the hardest is in relation to education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada students were out of the classroom for months, with access to the internet being the only way many students were able to connect with their classmates and teachers. In some instances, students opted to stay with remote learning even longer to keep themselves and their families safe. We know that students without access to the internet at home struggled with educational development as a whole more so than their counterparts with high speed internet. Unfortunately, once again this “homework gap” disparity hit communities of color the hardest. By ensuring the ACP can continue, Congress and the Biden Administration will be helping to increase equity and access in the classroom. 

The Affordable Connectivity Program is critically important for the hundreds of thousands of Nevada households who would otherwise be left offline. If we allow the ACP to run out of funding, we will fall significantly behind in our fight to bridge the digital divide- something we can’t allow to happen. We are hopeful the Biden Administration will once again lead on this issue like they have in the past, and work with Congress to find a solution that extends the program’s funding.