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Events tackle 'digital divide' debate after Biden's broadband proposals


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Events tackle 'digital divide' debate after Biden's broadband proposals

The pandemic brought the digital divide into stark relief, separating those who can learn and work from home from those who cannot.

Two events slated for this week will feature discussions about the efforts and challenges to providing affordable, high-speed broadband to all Americans.

Silicon Flatirons, along with law firm Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, will host an event May 12 titled "Legal Code: Reframing the Divide by Addressing Broadband Access Through Affordability and Inclusion." It will examine the impact of the Biden administration's efforts to expand broadband service and how the ongoing pandemic impacts how society thinks about digital inequality.

And on May 13, the Internet Innovation Alliance will host a virtual event titled "Building America on Broadband: A Chat with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr" where Carr and Bruce Mehlman, founding co-chairman of IIA and former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Technology Policy, will speak about broadband recommendations within President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan and other efforts to close the digital divide.

According to a 2020 Federal Communications Commission report, at least 18 million U.S. residents lack access to broadband. But the problem is not just about access; it is also about affordability.

"We have more people who don't have broadband because they cannot afford it than we have people who don't have broadband just because they can't access it," said John Heitmann, a partner with Kelley Drye & Warren LLP who will moderate the May 12 event.

The quandary took center stage last week when a group of telecom groups representing major internet providers, including Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., sued the state of New York over a new state law that requires providers operating in the state to offer high-speed internet to low-income new York families for $15 per month.

"Bring it on," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by billion-dollar corporations putting profit ahead of creating a more fair and just society," he said.

While laws and proposals around price controls are controversial, there is bipartisan support around other efforts to close the digital divide, including those that center on expanding access to unserved locations in rural areas.

Heitmann said the Biden administration has placed a high priority on connectivity. "You're going to see a more holistic approach from the Biden administration that addresses the affordability side while not ignoring the deployment side," Heitmann said, adding that Biden has allocated $100 billion toward broadband investments in his American Jobs Plan.

"I think the pandemic made clear — there's no going back," Heitmann said. "Everyone needs more broadband."

This is especially true of school-age children, said Harold Feld, senior vice president with Washington, D.C.-based Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. "If you're the parents who have to talk to the school to explain that no you don't have access to broadband because you can't afford it, it's embarrassing and it puts the burden on you to try to make the exception for your case," Feld noted.

Congress established the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund as part of the recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to help schools and libraries provide devices and connectivity to students, school staff and library patrons.


May 11 The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing titled "Prevention, Response, and Recovery: Improving Federal Cybersecurity Post-SolarWinds."
May 14 The House Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems will hold a hearing titled "Operations in Cyberspace and building Cyber Capabilities Across the Department of Defense."
Industry, legal and think tank events
May 10 The Brookings Institution will host a webinar titled "What exactly is 'responsible AI' in principle and in practice?" that will unpack how various sectors are building frameworks to increase the technology's accountability.
May 11-13

The Wall Street Journal will host its virtual "The Future of Everything" festival.

May 12 Silicon Flatirons will host an event titled "Legal Code: Reframing the Divide by Addressing Broadband Access Through Affordability and Inclusion."
May 12 The Verge will host a webinar titled "Building a Better Internet for America with Senator Ed Markey" to talk about net neutrality and other issues.
May 12-14 The Rainbow Push Coalition will host its PushTech Diversity and Inclusion virtual summit.
May 13

The Internet Innovation Alliance will host an event titled "Building America on Broadband: A Chat with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr."

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