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What Does the New Infrastructure Law Mean for America's Kids and Families?

Expanded access to affordable internet at home is one key benefit.

This month, President Biden signed into law the historic and long overdue $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the largest investment in generations in America's roads, bridges, ports, and water and energy systems. Included in this new and bipartisan law is $65 billion to help ensure that everyone in America is connected to high-speed internet, a monumental step toward one of Common Sense's top priorities: closing the digital divide once and for all.

This law represents the single largest investment ever toward closing the digital divide and ensure that every home and business has access to broadband connectivity that is critical to thrive in today's economy, in school, and in society. And Common Sense's research and advocacy played a big part in securing this key investment.

The new law is big and packed with good stuff, so we wanted to help break it down for you to see exactly what it does for kids and families' ability to go online and why it is so important. To sum it up, the broadband section of the new infrastructure law accomplishes four key goals to close the digital divide. It:

  • deploys high-speed internet to communities that lack it;
  • helps lower-income Americans afford internet service and devices;
  • establishes "digital inclusion" programs to help internet users take full advantage of online services; and
  • empowers consumers to protect themselves from exploitative and discriminatory business practices.

Let's take a closer look:

  • The infrastructure law will deploy high-speed internet to communities that lack it.

    The largest portion of the law is a $42 billion program dedicated to the creation and expansion of high-speed internet networks. This money is prioritized for rural areas and states that rank low in terms of internet access, ensuring that it will be spent connecting our least connected communities. It also prioritizes existing state projects and thereby supercharges the work that communities are already doing to build the networks of the future. The law also includes a $1 billion program to fund the construction of middle-mile infrastructure, which will make it easier to build last-mile connections and provide redundancy to our networks so that they have fewer single points of failure. (In case you don't already know, "middle mile" is the highway compared to the neighborhood streets of "last mile." The more middle mile, the easier it is to connect dispersed communities.)

  • The infrastructure law makes internet access more affordable.

    The second-largest broadband portion of the law provides $14 billion to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) (formerly the Emergency Broadband Benefit [EBB]). The ACP helps lower-income consumers by providing up to $30/month for internet service and a one-time $100 to help purchase a device. This $14 billion investment quadruples the size of the original EBB and demonstrates that Congress truly recognizes affordability as one of the leading causes of the digital divide, a point Common Sense has been making for a long time. Moreover, the law also requires the FCC and companies that provide internet service (ISPs) to advertise the ACP to help ensure that as many eligible people as possible apply for the benefit.

  • The infrastructure law creates a first-of-its-kind digital inclusion program.

    One of the most exciting components of the new law is the Digital Equity Act, which provides nearly $3 billion to create and support digital inclusion programs. Digital inclusion refers to providing internet users with the skills, knowledge, and technology they need to take full advantage of everything the internet has to offer. Along with access and affordability, a lack of digital inclusion is one of the leading drivers of the digital divide. The infrastructure law recognizes this fact and, for the first time ever, provides funding for digital inclusion activities. This is an enormous show of support for a previously underappreciated problem. Common Sense has a long history of promoting digital inclusion through our digital citizenship program, and we are excited to see Congress funding similar efforts across the country.

  • The infrastructure law empowers consumers.

    The broadband section of the new law has multiple provisions to help level the playing field between consumers and large ISPs. Consumers have long complained about delays in improvements to aging network infrastructure, spotty quality of service, high prices, lack of alternative providers, unresponsive customer support, and confusing service agreements. The new law addresses these problems in multiple ways. It:

    • creates consumer broadband labels that will bring transparency to pricing and contract agreements;
    • provides a long-overdue update to how the government measures ISPs' claims about their internet speeds;
    • strengthens rules that prohibit digital redlining, or the neglect of lower-income and minority communities;
    • doubles the size of a successful broadband program on tribal lands,; and
    • encourages local governments to invest in publicly owned broadband infrastructure.

Together, this suite of provisions will empower consumers and give communities resources to address their own connectivity needs.

We appreciate Congress and the Biden administration working together to pass this important law, and we hope that this extraordinary investment in broadband and digital equity will be the latest—but not the last—step in addressing the disparities between connected and under-connected kids and communities. In the meantime, the work begins to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to close the digital divide once and for all.

Drew Garner
Drew Garner is the state broadband policy fellow at Common Sense. He works to help state, local, and federal policymakers design and implement programs that close the digital divide. Prior to joining Common Sense, Drew worked in the U.S. Senate and in state government.