As Oregonians continue to rebuild from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, our lawmakers in Washington must do everything in their power to help our economy and provide everyone with the same opportunities for success. Oregon's representatives can make significant positive progress in support of these goals by passing the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law.
The U.S. Senate passed the bill with broad support — the House should not wait to move the bill and its crucial funding for broadband, roads, bridges and energy to the president's desk.
This bipartisan legislation will provide necessary dollars in investment to areas that need it most, particularly the communities — both urban and rural — that would benefit from the $65 billion allocated specifically for broadband deployment, adoption and digital skills. Closing the digital divide, the opportunity gap between those with and without broadband, has never been more important for the success of Oregon small businesses, families and communities.
In the 21st century economy, connectivity is vital to success in every industry. At the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce, we have seen how critical internet is for education, health care, agriculture and economic growth, especially during the past 17 months.
Oregon small businesses and employers of all sizes need broadband to reach their customer base, innovate and compete. Workers need internet access to work remotely, and, in the future, companies will only continue to move toward flexible work policies, which are not possible for those without broadband connection and devices.
Oregon's students must have a broadband connection as more schools move to remote education while COVID variants continue to spread throughout the state.
Internet connectivity is also vital for patients to utilize telemedicine. Connecting as many Americans to health care as possible has never been more important. Oregon's businesses need healthy workers and telemedicine allows more people to have access to safe and efficient care.
A reliable connection touches every aspect of life and all corners of our state's business landscape. Connection can be the difference between being successful or falling behind for so many workers and employers. Oregon will not be able to meet its full potential unless lawmakers prioritize eliminating the digital divide for every Oregon community.
We believe in economic prosperity for all Oregonians, but areas of our state without broadband access and usage lose out on potential economic investment and development. As we work toward strengthening our state after months of hardship, our lawmakers must do everything they can to provide the infrastructure that would recruit more businesses and opportunities to communities that need it most.
According to BroadbandNow, Oregon is ranked 34th for broadband access out of all the states. From individuals in rural communities who do not have the physical infrastructure to get connected, to income insecure families who simply cannot afford internet, to people without the digital devices and skills necessary to participate in the modern economy, communities are falling behind in our state.
One program that has been crucial for Oregonians has been the Federal Communications Commission's Emergency Broadband Benefit. This program provides Americans with a monthly subsidy of up to $50 per month for broadband. This subsidy can be the difference between families having broadband or being without essential internet connectivity.
Thankfully, this benefit is not going away if the House votes in favor of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This legislation makes this program permanent, helping families in the long run stay connected. Once this package is passed and the program made permanent, lawmakers can further strengthen broadband adoption by restoring the monthly subsidy offered by the program to an amount sufficient to ensure affordability for every family.
Something that is as essential as electricity or water should not be out of reach for so many — it should be as accessible as possible. For Oregon's people, economy and workforce to thrive, we need lawmakers to commit to permanent solutions that will address the fundamentals of broadband connectivity — deployment, adoption and digital skills programs.
Leaders in the U.S. House can show Oregonians this commitment to our future by voting for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on or before the Sept. 27 deadline set in the House and supporting future legislation to bring permanent solutions to close the digital divide.
Gioia Goodrum of McMinnville is the 2021 chair of the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce.
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