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President Obama announced a new initiative this week to connect 20 million more Americans to broadband by 2020, further promoting the White House’s agenda to reclassify high speed Internet as a public utility, like water or electricity.
The digital initiative, named ConnectALL, is intended “for folks looking for jobs or workers hoping to learn new skills,” wrote Obama in a Facebook post, acknowledging that in today’s economy, “the Internet isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity.”
“All of America’s students should be able to get online, no matter where they live or how much their parents make,” Obama wrote, citing the case of a low-income family whose children were forced to stand outside their school after hours in order to use the Wi-Fi to complete their homework, since they did not have Internet access at home.
According to a White House briefing, the ConnectALL program includes a recommendation to revamp Lifeline, a federal discount program introduced in 1985 to make phone service more accessible for lower-income families. The subsidy program was expanded in 2005 to include cellphone service; and, if restructured to include Internet, would reduce access fees by $9.25 a month for the 12 million households currently enrolled in the program.
According to Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, “Nearly 30 percent of Americans still don’t have broadband at home, and low-income consumers disproportionately lack access. While more than 95 percent of households with incomes over $150,000 have broadband, only 48 percent of those making less than $25,000 have service at home."
The initiative also includes efforts to improve digital literacy through libraries and museums, increase access to connected devices, and enable collaboration between community organizations and private companies to "deliver affordable connectivity."