Luján Introduces Broadband Package to Bridge Digital Divide, Tackle Homework Gap, and Promote Digital Equity
Luján’s Broadband Package Marks First Bill Introductions as U.S. Senator, Communications Subcommittee Chair
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Chair of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, introduced a broadband package to bridge the digital divide, tackle the homework gap, and promote digital equity for rural and Tribal communities. The broadband package marks Senator Luján’s first bill introductions in the Senate and works toward his long-standing priority to connect all New Mexicans.
Senator Luján introduced bipartisan legislation to provide E-Rate Support for School Bus Wi-Fi to help close the homework gap while students travel on their daily school bus routes. The legislation expands eligibility for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) E-Rate program to reimburse schools that equip school buses with Wi-Fi technology. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is a co-sponsor.
“For rural and Tribal students who travel hours to and from school, these commutes can be valuable time accessing the internet, completing assignments, and conducting research. Empowering our schools to equip buses with Wi-Fi is an opportunity to uplift our students, tackle the homework gap, and help alleviate the financial strain that too many families are experiencing at home,” said Luján.
Senator Luján also introduced the Broadband Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (BIFIA) to authorize $5 billion in federal funding to create a program at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that makes low-interest financing available for broadband infrastructure deployment projects. Without reliable, efficient broadband access, many health care centers, schools, and small businesses in rural and Tribal communities have struggled to carry out their daily operations.
“To bridge the digital divide, state and local governments, small internet providers, and public-private partnerships must have access to affordable financing options that encourage them to expand broadband connectivity across New Mexico. These are essential tools to help connect all New Mexicans, and that’s what makes this broadband package so crucial,” Luján continued.
Senator Luján successfully secured the inclusion of both pieces of legislation in the House-passed Moving Forward Act during the 116th Congress. Senator Luján is also a co-sponsor of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) yesterday to invest $94 billion in broadband infrastructure to help connect all Americans to reliable internet. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act includes language from both Luján bills.
“The New Mexico Homework Gap Team, an ad hoc group of professionals supporting narrowing the digital divide for our students is in support of Senator Lujan’s School Bus WiFi Bill. New Mexico has implemented a number of these critical access opportunities for our students, yet as the weather warms more will be required,” said the New Mexico Homework Gap Team. “New Mexico is the fifth largest state in the nation with a population of over 2 million dispersed into very rural parts. With regards to our over 350,000 students approximately 25 percent are without reliable nor affordable internet. School Bus WiFi is and will continue to be a necessary service to our students.”
“On behalf of the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education, we support Senator Lujan’s School Bus Wi-Fi Bill. As our Nation continues to establish new innovative ways to extend student learning and opportunities, bus Wi-Fi’s will tremendously compliment the work we are doing to connect students, especially in extreme isolated areas,” said Brent Nelson, Member of the New Mexico Homework Gap Team and Representative of the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education.
“Many communities want to ensure that their residents have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet by providing it themselves, but just can’t afford to. Offering loans helps them connect more people and increase broadband competition in the marketplace, too — ultimately leading to lower prices for consumers. We also appreciate that this legislation provides a preference for open-access networks, which will more efficiently use federal funds and further increase competition,” said Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge. “Such a complex problem as solving the digital divide will, of course, require many different strategies, but Senator Luján’s legislation marks a step forward and should pass swiftly with bipartisan support.”