New Assistance Programs Could Help Close the Digital Divide

Short-term solutions providing long-term benefits

Key Takeaways

  • The FCC has launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which will give eligible families access to broadband discounts.
  • Experts believe the new program could help provide crucial information needed to provide long-term solutions.
  • The Emergency Broadband Benefit comes at a time when internet access has become increasingly important in our daily lives.
Mother homeschooling son on a laptop

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Experts say the impact of the Emergency Broadband Benefit could help shape how we tackle the digital divide in the future.

The US has slowly been moving towards closing the digital divide and a new assistance program from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could provide key information to help shape those plans moving forward. Registration for the Emergency Broadband Benefit opens on May 12, allowing eligible Americans to sign up for discounts that will help them get access to internet they couldn’t afford otherwise. The information we learn from this program could help us better address the country’s growing broadband needs.

"I think it will be a really, really important program in the short term," Rebecca Watts, an internet access advocate and regional vice president of Western Governors University, told Lifewire on a call. 

"It will be really important to measure the outcomes for the people who are participating in the program from a family perspective," she continued. "And then it will be really important to look at the outcomes from the provider perspective and from the government perspective as well."

The Bigger Picture

The digital divide has been a growing problem for years now, and it’s one the FCC has been slow to resolve. Over the past year, though, the need for more meaningful connectivity has become increasingly clear. This starts by providing more affordable and stable internet access to people.

"It’s addressing a really urgent need for those who need it the most. That's the most powerful thing about it. It's very targeted to families who really are being left behind because they don't have the access they need. I think that's probably the most important thing about it," Watts said.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the government stepping in to provide better ways for users to get internet access, either. Last month, New York passed a law requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to offer affordable plans to low income families. Now, with the FCC providing access to this assistance program, we could finally start to see more progress in closing the digital divide.

But the Emergency Broadband Benefit won’t be here forever. That’s why Watts says it’s important for the FCC and providers to take note of all the new information we learn from it. Now that more families can access broadband—possibly for the first time—we could end up with a better idea of what’s required to connect everyone in the country.

Future Proofing Families

There are a number of reasons why internet access has evolved past a luxury, becoming more of a need, especially over the past year. Without internet access, children and even adults are locked out of access to important information that could help them in a number of ways.

"It will be really important to measure the outcomes for the people who are participating in the program from a family perspective,"

As a regional vice president at Western Governors University, Watts is a big advocate for providing access to all the educational tools people need to better themselves. And, she says, the internet is one of the most important tools of our time.

"When I completed my master's degree, there was no internet," Watts explained. "And I spent many evenings and weekends in the university library doing research." 

Watts says information is power, and having open access to the information you need can be transformative. Many universities provide open access to libraries, the internet, and other resources students need to find the answers they’re looking for. But, for children and kids working their way through kindergarten and even high school, that information isn’t as readily accessible. 

Kids attending online class from home

Imgorthand / Getty Images

Libraries close each day, locking their doors and cutting off crucial access to information that could ultimately change someone’s life, or at the least, provide new opportunities. With the internet, there are no cut off times, and people can access whatever they need, whenever they need it. The Emergency Broadband Benefit will finally enable many people to do the same.

"It's a great short term and powerful benefit that the federal government has developed and deployed," said Watts. "It will be a very important one to watch so that we measure how it's working, who it's helping, and then use that data to inform us for our long-term plans for the future."

Was this page helpful?