Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the administration’s effort to ensure every American has access to affordable, broadband internet. President Joe Biden announced Harris would take the lead on the issue during his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.
Biden touted his proposal to create new jobs through investment in expanding internet access. Biden said his American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband deployment, will ensure that rural Americans who still don’t have access to fast internet connections can get online, reports The Washington Post.
“It’s going to help our kids and business succeed in the 21st century economy,” Biden said. “And I’m asking the vice president to lead this effort, if she will, because I know it will get done.”
The announcement signals that closing the digital divide is a top priority for the administration during the pandemic. Biden’s push for record-breaking broadband funding follows recent stimulus bills, which included billions to bring more students online and help low-income Americans pay their internet bills, Inside Towers noted.
“Putting the Vice President in charge of the administration’s broadband efforts shows that the President considers closing the digital divide of utmost importance,” said Gigi Sohn, a Georgetown Law Institute for Technology & Policy distinguished fellow and former counselor to Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Harris is taking on the broadband work at a critical point, as the world is watching to see if she emerges as the clear heir apparent to lead the Democratic Party after Biden, according to The Washington Post.
Blair Levin, the former executive director of the Obama FCC’s national broadband plan, said the move underscores the Biden administration’s recognition of the range of hurdles preventing Americans from accessing the internet. “I think it means that the Biden administration understands that it is an ecosystem problem that involves not just networks but also issues such as technology leadership and digital equity and inclusion,” he said.
Harris, the nation’s first non-White female vice president, has used her role to discuss matters with greater effect on people of color, and data shows there are racial divides in who has a home broadband connection. Pew Research Center reports in February 2021, 80 percent of White U.S. adults say they have a home connection, compared to 71 percent of Black adults and 65 percent of Hispanic adults.
As a former California senator, state attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, Harris has worked on tech policy. Her connections to influential people in the tech industry could prove beneficial, according to the account.
Broadband may be one area where Democrats can find common ground with Republicans. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) cited broadband expansion as one of the areas of agreement between Republicans and Democrats in his rebuttal to Biden’s address, but he generally criticized Biden’s infrastructure plan.
“Democrats want a partisan wish list,” he said. “They won’t even build bridges to build bridges.” A group of Republican senators released a framework of their infrastructure plan, which included $65 billion for broadband, significantly less than what Biden has proposed, Inside Towers reported.