Congress: Pass the infrastructure bill so Philly can make it work.

Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill hit speed bumps in the House of Representatives after easily crossing the Senate in August. The $ 1,000 billion spending bill – which includes $ 15 billion to remove lead pipes, $ 39 trillion in new transit investments and $ 65 billion to expand access and Broadband adoption – is now on hiatus as moderates and progressives vie for a distinct set of climate, health care and social spending initiatives.

Both bills include investments essential to the future of Philadelphia. The infrastructure package, for example, includes urgently needed funding to clean up the 20,000 homes in the city that still have lead water pipes and provide assistance to three out of 10 households that are not connected to the grid. home internet service.

With unified Democratic control of the White House and both houses of Congress, failing to pass these priorities would be a catastrophic political and political failure. The stakes are just too high to grope the ball so close to the end zone.

As we eagerly await legislative progress in Washington, here on the ground in Philadelphia, we must prepare for the larger challenge that would follow. Bill’s broadband investments, in particular, are more of a starting point than a finish line.

The infrastructure bill – when passed – will commit $ 14 billion to fund a new affordable connectivity program. Any Philadelphian earning up to twice the federal poverty line will be eligible for a benefit of up to $ 30 per month to purchase home broadband service from a provider of their choice. More than one in four households in Pennsylvania would qualify.

Broadband service providers have a long history of providing entry-level service to low-income customers for $ 10-20 per month. Building on this existing foundation, the Affordable Connectivity Program would essentially make home internet service free for any low-income family.

With just one signature, Joe Biden could erase the affordability of broadband as the engine of our city’s digital divide.

However, other obstacles will persist. And instead of being surprised in a year or two when the Affordable Connectivity Program alone has not overcome the digital divide, Philadelphia needs a game plan – now – to capitalize on this news. resources to connect each eligible family.

First, we will need an outreach effort that reaches out to unconnected families where they live. Research shows that trust gaps are one of the main factors behind participation in broadband adoption efforts. So, instead of inventing a new bureaucracy, we should partner in outreach and enrollment with the organizations that are already intertwined in the lives of unconnected families: their churches, their children’s schools, organizations in the world. community nonprofits already active on their blocks.

When Obamacare became law, the federal government funded “navigators” to help eligible families enroll. The infrastructure bill is aptly inspired by this model, committing nearly $ 3 billion to find digital equity awareness programs. Let’s make sure these funds reach the advocates on the ground and nonprofits best positioned to spread the word.

Second, supporting broadband adoption should be holistically integrated with other social service programs. The digital divide is inseparable from structural challenges such as homelessness, unemployment and language barriers; Awareness of ACP enrollment should therefore be integrated into the many points of contact that government agencies and educational entities already have with vulnerable populations.

Third, the business and philanthropic communities must step up and play a big role here. The infrastructure bill’s digital equity grants can get the ball rolling, but we’ll need more resources to reach every eligible family.

Our city’s groundbreaking PHLConnectED public-private partnership offers a valuable case study to build on. Local government, private companies and nonprofit donors must pool their resources, define a common vision and hold each other accountable for measurable progress. Let’s replicate this model as we work to get all eligible families enrolled in the CPA.

And finally, we also need to involve health care providers. The use of telemedicine has exploded during the pandemic, providing a cheaper, more convenient and safer alternative to in-person care. Doctors’ offices, community health centers and hospital groups all have an interest in expanding the circle of patients equipped to connect virtually. We should use these contact points to raise awareness of the benefits of CPA and enroll families.

It is up to Congress to pass this vitally important bill. It’s up to all of us here in Philadelphia to make sure we have a plan in place to put these resources to work once they are.

Derek S. Green is a member of the At-Large Council of the Philadelphia City Council.

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