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Rep. Jamaal Bowman introduces new bill to lower broadband costs

For years, the broadband debate has centered around connecting people living in rural and unserved areas across the country. But while some rural Americans don’t have the infrastructure necessary to connect to the internet, other families in urban communities face difficulties affording what’s already available. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is set to introduce a new measure Tuesday that could help millions of households access more affordable broadband.

“The more access to broadband people have, the more access and opportunity they have to the world beyond where they currently exist,” Bowman told The Verge on Tuesday. “The internet is a library. It’s an encyclopedia. It’s information.”

Bowman’s “Broadband Justice Act,” co-sponsored by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) who chairs a housing subcommittee, would require the Housing and Urban Development Department, along with the Treasury and USDA, to update its utility allowance definitions to include broadband so it can be subsidized for families living in government-assisted housing. Other utilities like gas and electricity are already subsidized in this way. The bill would also create a new grant program to help wire buildings and build out other broadband-related infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of momentum and energy around making this a utility, not just from members of Congress but from organizers on the outside,” Bowman told The Verge. “The grassroots is really behind this.”

The FCC already has subsidy programs, like Lifeline, that make broadband more affordable for qualified households, but it’s been the subject of disinvestment for many years. Many Lifeline subscribers receive poor connections, and according to The Washington Post, many people who qualify for the program refuse to use it due to its insufficiencies.

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As Congress prepares for its next big infrastructure package, money for broadband expansion will likely be included in the process. Last week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) introduced a sweeping broadband package that would invest over $94 billion in building high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas. The Senate Commerce Committee also plans to hold a hearing on broadband expansion this week.