With critical broadband funding set to expire soon, the Maine Library Association urges Congress to support ongoing Affordable Connectivity Program funding.
Accessible and affordable internet access is vital to completing day-to-day activities. One of the most significant steps taken in recent years to close this “digital divide,” the gap between those who have connectivity and those who do not, has been the creation and implementation of the ACP. The program, which provides assistance to eligible households on their monthly internet subscription, has been incredibly successful in cities, suburbs and rural regions like ours.
However the ACP faces an urgent problem — if Congress doesn’t act to extend it, its funding will expire in early 2024.
As a librarian, I witness firsthand how everyday Maine libraries address these disparities by ensuring equitable access to the internet. Libraries are filled with students completing homework assignments and adults seeking all sorts of information they depend on to participate in society. Broadband in libraries is used to access digital collections, e-government services, legal information, distance learning, health information and many other essential community services.
At the height of the pandemic, we would see cars parked in closed library parking lots as community members would use the libraries’ open wifi. The provision of essential services during emergencies is dependent on reliable broadband connections.
In the two years since its creation, the ACP has already assisted about 90,000 Maine households. So many Mainers from all corners of our great state are now able to fully realize their educational and small business dreams by staying connected to their friends and family and neighbors.
The ACP isn’t just essential due to its necessity for alleviating cost barriers to connectivity, it also plays a prominent role in the effective implementation of the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.
Unfortunately, Mainers residing in our state’s most rural communities sometimes still lack access to broadband infrastructure. The federally funded BEAD program was created to address these digital infrastructure gaps across the country. In order to ensure the program’s funding is used to its fullest potential, the ACP must remain intact. Otherwise, the subsidy needed to motivate providers to build out to unserved areas will drastically increase.
Our digital divide will never fully close without the ACP. Allowing it to expire will threaten the connectivity of more than 21 million American households across the country. Congress must do its part in getting more Americans the connectivity they need by extending funding for this much-needed program. By doing so, Congress will be delivering essential online resources to countless Americans across the country, and improving their economic prospects, health outcomes and educational attainment in the process.
American households having greater access to broadband does not diminish the role libraries play in digital equity. Both are needed. Library workers will still be available to assist community members as they increase their digital literacy — the skills you need to live, learn and work in a society where communication and access to information are increasingly through digital technologies. Libraries offer workshops and one-on-one consultations to assist community members in harnessing the power of connectivity.
As we navigate the uncertainties of the future, prioritizing and investing in reliable broadband infrastructure is an investment in the very fabric of a well-connected, informed and empowered society. The Maine Library Association remains steadfast in its dedication to the cause of equitable broadband access. I would like to urge Maine’s legislative delegation to prioritize ACP funding as Congress finishes its funding bills this year. Maine’s communities depend on this getting done.