On February 17th, the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee convened a virtual hearing to discuss “Connecting America: Broadband Solutions to Pandemic Problems.” It was intended to examine how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the digital divide. 

Members of Congress and witnesses discussed the ways in which disconnected households have struggled to connect to distance learning, remote work, and telehealth during the national emergency. Members placed an emphasis on the disparate impacts of the connectivity gaps on rural communities and minority populations including Black, Latinx, and Native American communities. The witness list included representatives from Free Press Action, Topeka Public Schools, the Communications Workers of America, and the Wireless Infrastructure Association. 

Of particular interest was the forthcoming Emergency Broadband Benefit, a $3.2 billion program recently passed by Congress that will provide a discount of up to $50 per month wards broadband service for eligible households, and $75 per month for residents on Tribal lands. Next Century Cities recently submitted comments, reply comments, and participated in the FCC’s roundtable discussion to underscore the importance of local perspectives in program design and implementation. The Committee also discussed $7.6 Billion in funding to support E-Rate programs. 

Next Century Cities continues to elevate local voices before legislators and other officials. Throughout the hearing, we used our social media platform to highlight local officials and stories while encouraging local officials to share their community’s connectivity story with their members of Congress. We encourage members to engage in federal policymaking conversations as the decisions in those tribunals have a trickle down impact on local communities. Many members have already done so by participating in the Emergency Broadband Benefit proceeding. We hope that your community considers joining the FCC as a partner in the EBB program. 

Local officials who are looking for ways  to engage in federal proceedings (letters, filings, meetings, filings or testimony) should contact Ryan Johnston, Policy Counsel for Federal Programs at ryan@nextncenturycities.org.