Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission
New York, New York
April 27, 2021
President Bozkir, distinguished delegates – it is an honor to be sharing this platform with you for this important discussion about digital cooperation and closing the digital divide.
As Acting Chairwoman of the United States Federal Communications Commission, I believe that the future belongs to the connected. No matter who you are or where you live, you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success.
This is especially true in the era of COVID-19. The pandemic has forced so many of us to take a digital leap in our daily lives. At the same time, this public health crisis has exposed that not all of us are equipped for this technology-enabled future. There are big disparities when it comes to accessing the digital age. And being consigned to the wrong side of the digital divide can mean lack of access to so much more than just technology – it can mean lack of access to employment opportunities, news, education, healthcare, and more.
So, the challenge to connect all is real. It’s also a challenge I believe we can work together to meet. That’s because as a global community we need connections – physical and digital – that strengthen our mutual bonds. We need communications that reach all and help us work, learn, be informed, enlightened, and entertained. And we need connections that can break down barriers that for too long have held too many back.
For our part, the United States Federal Communications Commission is committed to working with our international partners, including the International Telecommunication Union, to expand the benefits of the digital age to everyone, everywhere and to achieve our common strategy under the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And I applaud the ITU for creating the Global Network Resiliency Platform as a clearinghouse for regulators to share solutions to the connectivity challenges raised by the pandemic.
In that spirit, I would like to share three initiatives we are pursuing in the United States to help close the digital divide.
First, we are implementing policies to keep citizens connected during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes a historic new program to help families who are struggling to pay for internet service. With our new Emergency Broadband Benefit, Americans who have low incomes or who have lost their jobs will be eligible for a substantial monthly discount on internet service. This means more people can work online or seek jobs online, more students can take classes online, and more patients can consult with their healthcare providers online.
Second, we are taking action to extend the reach of our broadband networks. At the FCC we are standing up a Broadband Data Task Force to help us understand where broadband is and
is not across the country, so that we can better target our efforts. We are also investing in networks to expand telehealth services during the pandemic.
Third and finally, we are prioritizing the basic education needs of children by bringing laser-like focus on a specific aspect of the digital divide that I call the Homework Gap. In the United States, most of our school districts started the year with remote learning. Some have started to transition to hybrid approaches to learning that still rely on internet access. But our data shows that as many as 16.9 million children in the United States do not have internet access at home. That means they are locked out of their virtual classrooms.
According to a report commissioned by the United Nation’s Children Fund and the ITU, the United States is not alone. More than two billion children around the world – roughly 67 percent – also fall into this Homework Gap.
I believe this is the cruelest part of the digital divide. And in the United States we are making it a priority to fix it. We are launching a program that will provide every school library with Wi-Fi hotspots and other connectivity devices to loan out to students who lack reliable internet access at home. As we explore opportunities to accelerate the Decade of Action, I sincerely hope all of you will consider joining me in this effort to close the Homework Gap for the young generation.
Thank you for having this important conversation and for creating this opportunity to learn from you and to share our work. This pandemic has taught us like nothing before that broadband is no longer a nice to have, it’s a need to have, for everyone everywhere.