Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) introduced a bill Tuesday to expand affordable broadband access to millions of families living in federally subsidized housing.
Citing the modern need for high-speed internet for remote learning, work, telehealth, and more, the bill would pave the way for low-income Americans to have access to high-quality internet that would otherwise be unaffordable for many.
The legislation updates HUD, Treasury, and USDA utility allowance definitions to include broadband as a subsidized utility, recognizing broadband as a 21st-century utility.
In addition, the bill would update American subsidized housing infrastructure by retrofitting units with the necessary wiring for high-quality broadband.
“The pandemic has exacerbated an already pressing need. In the 21st century, we must rethink broadband as a basic utility alongside gas, electric, and water,” said Rep. Bowman. “It’s been almost 80 years since the government began providing subsidized utilities to those in need and their livelihoods depend on us bringing our understanding of essential utilities from the 1930s to modern times.”
“As our 21st-century society continues to evolve and digitize at an exponential rate, access to broadband has grown from a luxury for the few to an essential utility needed by all,” said Rep. Cleaver. “The pandemic has laid bare the dire need for Congress to invest in affordable, high-speed internet for working-class families in rural and urban communities, but Americans across the country could tell you this issue has been festering for years.”
“Broadband access is an essential resource in this day and age, especially in the wake of a global pandemic that has drastically altered our digital landscape,” said NYCHA Chair and CEO Greg Russ. “We appreciate Congressman Bowman for taking our idea and introducing this bill. Broadband is a utility and should be included as such, making it affordable and accessible to our families.”
The bill would aim to provide additional operational funds and create a flexible grant program to support wiring buildings, assistance, and other resident support related to the installation and utilization of broadband.