As our nation moves to responsibly reopen amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we are increasingly relying on America’s broadband networks to navigate this effort. Many Americans will continue to work and learn from home, as others start the process of returning to their workplaces and businesses. The pandemic has made abundantly clear the importance of a quality internet connection. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to high-speed broadband.
U.S. News and World Report noted that 84% of American households have a broadband internet subscription. This healthy percentage is overshadowed by the disconcerting fact that only 13% of the population has access to high-speed broadband internet with speeds greater than 1 gigabit per second, which is 100 times faster than today’s average broadband service. Businesses, individuals and workers can get a lot done with that type of speed and capacity, which gives them a big advantage in the competitive economy.
The global pandemic has impacted small businesses in intense and unforgiving ways, and the digital divide has exacerbated this hardship. Many businesses were forced to physically close their doors to customers and may only reopen under the limitations of various phases. For small businesses without quality broadband, there was no pivot to e-commerce, new business models, online collaboration, or communicating with customers and suppliers through platforms or social media.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs who were able to turn to technological tools, platforms and the internet had more opportunities to keep revenues flowing, customers informed and their businesses open on a remote basis. However, small businesses in communities without adequate broadband access do not have the reliable connectivity or speeds to maintain their lives and businesses remotely or operate on a flexible basis.
As many Americans have learned during COVID-19, small businesses are a serious engine of job creation and innovation. They are the heart and soul of many local communities, but they will not be able to help the economy rebound unless high-speed internet is provided to all Americans. It is time for Congress to act to make universal broadband access a reality.
Through infrastructure investments and increased subsidies to expand broadband access, Congress can ensure that all Americans, including small businesses and entrepreneurs, can tap into reliable and high-speed internet – which means they will have the tools to compete in the modern-digital economy. Now is time for Congress to show up for America’s small businesses and advance legislation that will close the digital divide once and for all. Legislative action is needed to allow small businesses and individuals in rural and underserved communities the ability to access broadband speeds to not only keep their businesses competitive but to also access tools to improve the quality of their lives – from telehealth, to financial services, and online learning.
Fortunately, Congress has started to address universal broadband access through passage of the Broadband DATA Act. This initiative will ensure the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the granular data required to identify where broadband is needed the most. Policymakers must fund this legislation to ensure federal dollars are distributed appropriately for infrastructure deployment. There is no question that funding this important initiative deserves bipartisan support to ensure that America’s small businesses – no matter where they are located – have access to vital digital tools to boost their odds of success.
Bridging the nation’s disparity in high-speed internet access is a necessary step to helping small businesses navigate – and hopefully thrive – in the new normal. Now is the time for lawmakers to act so that no small business is left behind as our nation’s economy reopens, recovers and returns to prosperity.
Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.