Sen. Patty Murray highlighted progress made in expanding broadband access for Washington communities, libraries and school districts during a virtual roundtable on Thursday.
“In 2022, it’s past time that we consider high-speed internet like we do running water or electricity,” Murray said. “It wasn’t until COVID-19 that we really got people’s ears to perk up on this issue.”
Among a handful of new initiatives and funding projects Murray noted was the Affordable Connectivity Program, which permanently extends the Emergency Broadband Benefit under Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure law that passed in November.
The Affordable Connectivity Program will provide $30 per month to an estimated 1.4 million eligible Washingtonians to help pay for broadband access, as well as a $100 discount on necessary tech devices. As much as $70 per month, Murray said, will be made available for those living on tribal lands.
The law also requires the Federal Communications Commission to set new guidelines for how providers outline broadband rates and speeds to customers — what Murray referred to as the “broadband nutrition label.” It will also help to provide better competition in areas where service providers aren’t providing strong enough broadband.
Murray also talked about her Digital Equity Act, which would provide $2.75 billion to continue improving national broadband access, as well as two new five-year grant programs comparable to the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund.
The two new grant programs will allocate an estimated $550 million over the next five years, the Washington Democrat said.
School districts in Clark County advocated for the continuation of the connectivity fund — which is set to run out of funding in June — so smaller districts that aren’t supported by a local tech levy would be able to provide broadband access and connected devices to their students in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spokespeople from school districts and libraries across the state voiced how the connectivity fund and other federal aid initiatives like the American Rescue Plan were crucial to providing internet access to those in need during the pandemic.
The final round of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund allocated an estimated $7.8 million to school districts in Washington, bringing the fund’s total to $95.9 million over seven rounds of funding since being signed into law in March 2021.
“I’m so glad we were able to pass major investments in high-speed internet and digital inclusion in both the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure law, which put us firmly on the path toward universal broadband, will help cut costs, and finally bridge the digital divide,” Murray said.