On Tuesday, Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.) introduced a bill to expand affordable broadband access to millions of families living in federally subsidized housing. According to Rep. Bowman’s press release, Americans need high-speed internet for remote learning, work, telehealth, and more. The bill, entitled the “Broadband Justice Act of 2021,” would reportedly enable low-income families to afford such connectivity.
The legislation would purportedly update “utility allowance definitions” with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and U.S. Department of Agriculture to include broadband as both a subsidized and modern utility. In addition, the bill would upgrade subsidized housing infrastructure by retrofitting units with broadband wiring and create a flexible grant program with funds dedicated to broadband installation and utilization assistance.
Speaking about the bill, Rep. Bowman said in a statement, “the pandemic has exacerbated an already pressing need. In the 21st century, we must rethink broadband as a basic utility alongside gas, electric, and water. It’s been almost 80 years since the government began providing subsidized utilities to those in need. In our district alone, there are over 21,000 living in public housing, and their livelihoods depend on us bringing our understanding of essential utilities from the 1930s to modern times.
“The calls for this legislation are calling from all corners — tenant organizers, affordable housing developers, federal renter advocates, rural housing groups, and public housing leaders. We’re proud to introduce this legislation to unify behind a renewed understanding of utilities, and the mission to ensure that broadband is accessible to everyone.”
Tuesday’s announcement comes several months after other lawmakers wrote to nine internet service providers imploring them to provide affordable internet access to Americans and questioning price increases and the enactment of data caps during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also in January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a similar initiative offering high-speed internet service to low-income families in the state for $15 per month.