By EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON
U.S. House of Representatives
The coronavirus disease, commonly known as the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced many of us, me included, to adapt and incorporate technology into our daily lives. No longer is the internet a luxury – it has become our standard of living to maintaining day to day business operations. The majority of our health services, utility services, small businesses, and even homes where students now partake in virtual learning, require high-speed connection.
Parents and students have especially felt this technical shift as computers have replaced traditional classrooms. To keep in practice with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines, lessons are taught via video conference, and homework is completed and reviewed virtually.
The Dallas Independent School District acknowledges that even with nearly 33,000 hot spots that have been delivered to students, that still is not enough to combat the unreliable home internet connectivity, according to an NBC-DFW report. As a result of the broadband divide in low-income and rural communities, our students are starting to fall behind in their education – leading to a growing homework gap where the majority of learning is online.
Despite the substantial progress our country has made to extend connection to underserved communities, challenges to quality universal broadband access persist. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed these disparities, especially in our minority and vulnerable populations.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon my colleagues in the Congress to help build and strengthen our country’s broadband infrastructure and we have answered the call. That is why I supported two bills that passed in the United States House of Representatives to address this very issue. The first measure is H.R. 6800, the Heroes Act, that passed in May. This bill was signed into law that provided emergency funding to schools, libraries, and local governments to support digital equity for students in need like those in DISD who are required to connect to school from home.
The second measure is H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, an infrastructure bill that came out of the House Transportation Committee where I proudly serve. The Moving Forward Act passed the House in June and like many other bills, are still awaiting Senate action. If signed into law, this legislation would provide significant investments in the amount of $80 billion in federal funding to build out high-speed internet access across the country. At a time where our nation relies so heavily on broadband connectivity, these resources would ensure that millions of American families would have the resources needed for staying connected.
If we fail to make an investment in this vital necessity, Americans could lose access to health care. Further, students all over the country could fall behind in their educational instruction. And even worst, businesses could lose out on key opportunities to strengthen the economy. There is no greater time to help bridge the broadband divide.
U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas.