In the increasingly digital world, internet services and the devices to access them have quickly become essential to participate in the 21st-century economy.
The coronavirus pandemic has further demonstrated this need and underscored the stark disparities that currently exist in the United States.
Against that backdrop, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) have introduced the Device Access for Every American Act to ensure more Americans can afford connected devices.
The bicameral legislation would authorize the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a program to administer up to $400 vouchers for low-income Americans to purchase laptops, tablets, and desktop computers.
“It is nearly impossible to get by without access to a laptop or tablet—especially after a year of adjusting to virtual learning, working, and more,” Warnock said. “For that, I am incredibly proud to introduce the Device Access for Every American Act, which ensures that every American — regardless of income or zip code — can participate and thrive in our increasingly digital economy.
“This legislation also ensures students stay on track, especially following a year of learning loss, with the necessary devices at their disposal.”
Warnock and McEachin said more than 11 percent of American households are without computers. They noted that millions of Americans migrated to virtual learning and teleworking since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Still, many households struggled to connect because of a lack of or an insufficient number of connected devices.
Further, while computer access is nearly ubiquitous for high-income households, 40 percent of those making under $30,000 a year lack a desktop or laptop computer.
Statistics show that 1 in 3 African American and Hispanic households lack access to a computer in their homes — twice the number of white families.
Most concerning, the lawmakers said 4.4 million households with students lack consistent access to a computer at home, with more than 9 million schoolchildren struggling to participate in class and complete schoolwork.
“Laptops, tablets, and other connected devices are indispensable in our increasingly digital world,” McEachin said. “Many students’ homework assignments now require laptops, more employers are exploring telework models, and more doctors’ offices are migrating toward telehealth services as the new standard of care.”
The Device Access for Every American Act would:
– Allocate $2 billion in federal funding for the establishment and implementation of the voucher program
– Authorize the FCC to administer up to $400 vouchers for eligible individuals and families to purchase a connected device
– Permit up to two low-income individuals per household to receive a voucher so that families can receive multiple devices
– Direct the FCC to collaborate with connected device retailers, promote the program to eligible Americans, and provide individualized technical assistance to assist in enrollment
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated this need and underscored the stark disparities that currently exist in our country,” McEachin said. “Unfortunately, for too many low-income Americans, prohibitive costs pose unnecessary challenges and hardships for them and their families.”