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Future Present is Digital
A New Law Makes Access More Equitable
To Fully Participate, You Need to Be Connected
The pandemic has changed everything. You can visit your doctor online. You can receive your pandemic relief payments online. Your classes and your children’s classes happen online. And you are probably using more and more technology at your job. The present is digital. We all need access to high-speed internet, quality devices, and training in order to live, work, and learn in this connected world.
A new federal law—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—will help people access low-cost but high-quality internet service. The law will also bring millions of dollars to states to build digital equity. Digital equity means that everyone in a community has the capacity to use information technology for “full participation in the society and economy of the United States.”
How do You Get Connected?
The new law creates the Affordable Connectivity Program. Once you register, the program can provide a discount of up to $30 per month for internet service for eligible households (and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands.)
Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. The Affordable Connectivity Program is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
A household is eligible if at least one person meets at least one of these criteria:
- Has an income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines;
- Participates in SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
- Participates in Tribal programs, such as BIA General Assistance or Tribal TANF;
- Receives free or reduced-price school lunch or breakfast this school year or in the past two school years;
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income program.
You can find out which internet providers in your area are providing this benefit and sign up at https://www.fcc.gov/acp.
How Can Your Program Help the State Build Digital Equity?
The new law also creates the Digital Equity State Plan process. In March 2022, each state will get money to create a plan to build digital equity across their state, and then each state will get more money to put that plan into action. A big focus of the work will be on certain community members, named in the law as “covered populations.” These priority groups include:
- People earning less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level
- Older people
- People in prison
- People with disabilities
- English language learners and people with literacy needs
- People in Black, Indigenous, People of Color communities
- People in rural communities
Anyone participating in adult education programs is a priority for digital equity work. It is critical that adult education state leaders get involved in the state digital equity planning, and that local programs make their needs known. Adult education programs might need funds for broadband access, devices for learners and staff, and for digital skill-building and digital navigation services. During the planning process, people will have the opportunity to participate in “public comment.” This is a great opportunity for civic engagement—for getting involved and having your voice heard.
What do you need?
As you think about the tools and skills you need for accessing health care, communicating with your children’s school, and getting ahead on the job, what is missing? How would having affordable, high-quality internet and devices for your household matter? What would it mean not only to have digital equity but to be digitally resilient— ready for the future?
Judy Mortrude is a Senior Technical Advisor at World Education, and she is the president of the National Coalition for Literacy.