Bill Would Expand Affordable Broadband to 8M Households

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Two House Democrats recently introduced legislation that seeks to provide affordable broadband access to millions who live in federally subsidized housing. The measure from Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Treasury Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to revise utility allowance definitions to add broadband to the list of subsidized utilities.

The legislation is the latest by lawmakers in Congress that seeks to expand internet access for low-income Americans as the pandemic forced many to shift to virtual learning and remote work. It also comes days after House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) reintroduced legislation that would put more than $90 billion toward expanding broadband infrastructure, Inside Towers reported.

Bowman said the “pandemic has exacerbated an already pressing need” and that, “in the 21st century, we must rethink broadband as a basic utility alongside gas, electric, and water. It’s been almost 80 years since the government began providing subsidized utilities to those in need. In our district alone, there are over 21,000 living in public housing, and their livelihoods depend on us bringing our understanding of essential utilities from the 1930s to modern times,” said Bowman.

Cleaver, too, said broadband access should be thought of as a utility. “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,” he continued.

Cleaver said the legislation will ensure millions of Americans in federally subsidized housing are able to receive, “access to affordable broadband and a fair chance at the American Dream in the digital era.”

“The calls for this legislation are coming from all corners — tenant organizers, affordable housing developers, federal renter advocates, rural housing groups, and public housing leaders. We’re proud to introduce this legislation to unify behind a renewed understanding of utilities, and the mission to ensure that broadband is accessible to everyone,” Bowman added. 

In addition to expanding affordable broadband access for those living in federally subsidized housing, the bill also seeks to establish a grant program that would be used for assistance related to broadband installation and utilization.

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