Durbin, Davis Introduce Bill To Make Broadband And Computer Technology More Affordable

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL-07) today announced introduction of their Computer and Internet Access Equity Act. The bill would connect American families and students to the internet by making broadband and computer technology more affordable.

“Broadband and computer technology are necessities in America today, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  But for too many, these services are a luxury,” Durbin said. “My bill with Rep. Davis would help students complete their coursework, provide access to telehealth resources, and connect people to work, government assistance, and their loved ones. It’s time to bridge the digital divide and give Illinois households access to basic necessities for success.”

“The problem of ensuring that low and moderate-income families have access to computer technology before, during, and after the pandemic is a national concern. It is an equity issue. According to the FCC, 34 million Americans still lack access to adequate broadband. Every day I hear from parents who are wondering and worried about what will happen to their children next.  Will their children have access to technology so they can have a chance to achieve the American dream?” said Davis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the magnitude of the digital divide, as many Americans are unable to afford basic broadband access and computer technology. According to 2019 data from the Pew Research Center, substantial gaps in technology adoption exist for households earning less than $30,000. For these households, 29 percent did not own a smartphone, 44 percent did not have broadband service, and 46 percent did not own a traditional computer. Further, 25 percent of these households where teens were present lacked access to a computer in the home.

Students particularly feel the impact of the digital divide, as school districts and universities have had to pivot to relying heavily on virtual education technology resources amid the pandemic, often regardless of students’ ability to access the necessary equipment and internet connections. Internet access inequities further systemic educational disparities for those who are already the most disadvantaged—schools alone do not have the resources needed to address this serious concern.

The Computer and Internet Access Equity Act would connect American families and students to the internet by reducing the affordability burden of broadband and computer technology.  Specifically, the bill would do the following:

  • Increase Lifeline Support: The FCC’s Lifeline program subsidizes monthly broadband and telephone service for low-income households.
    • This bill would increase the maximum Lifeline subsidy up to about $92.50 per month (up to about $1,100 per year). Currently, most individuals receive a monthly subsidy of just $9.25 ($111 per year), despite the average monthly cost of internet service being around $60 per month ($720 per year).
    • The bill would increase the eligibility to household income at or below 435 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($113,970 for a family of four). Currently, income must be at or below 135 percent ($35,370 for a family of four).
  • Establish a Technology Tax Credit: The bill would provide a refundable $10,000 lifetime tax credit (capped at $2,000 per year) for low- and moderate-income individuals or households to purchase technology. The income thresholds to receive the maximum credit amount are $36,000 for single filers and $72,000 for joint filers.
  • Provide Internet Education and Training Grants: The bill would direct the FCC to provide grants to non-profits and community-based organizations to provide training, which may address cyberbullying, online privacy, cybersecurity, and digital literacy.

Full text of the legislation is available here.