White House: ‘High-speed internet service is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity’
Editor’s note: CHN Intern Carly Shaffer is a rising senior at George Washington University, majoring in Political Communication and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Rook Bazinet, at just 18 years old, experienced homelessness for the first time while working as a partner at a Starbucks in Massachusetts. The recent high school graduate would arrive at all of his Starbucks shifts between two and three hours early and stay between two and three hours late to sit in the cafe, his only opportunity for reliable internet access. Rook felt that it was dehumanizing to spend all of his time at his workplace, yet his only hope of ever finding reliable housing was on the internet. This was Rook’s ticket to a better future.
Rook is one of many Americans who experience unreliable internet connection, something which the Biden Administration has begun to tackle. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), finalized with Biden’s most recent announcement, is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program designed to help low-income Americans pay for internet service and connected devices like a laptop or tablet. This legislation includes protections for unhoused Americans. This program means that Rook would not have needed access to the Starbucks cafe to meet his basic need of internet access.
While sitting in the cafe of Starbucks, the teen was able to research where to get car insurance, health insurance, how to buy a car, where it was legal for him to sleep, and what his rights were as an unhoused youth. He relied on the MA Homeless Youth Handbook, an online resource, and would jot down the crucial points for his safety with a pencil and piece of paper.
“I was kind of in a lucky situation given that I worked at Starbucks at the time. It wasn’t unusual to see partners hanging out in the cafe doing personal work off their shifts,” Rook told Voices for Human Needs.
The internet provides open doors for opportunity and awareness. When one does not have access to any form of reliable internet, those doors are closed, preventing opportunity and awareness. It is a catch-22 situation: the internet is crucial for accessing basic needs, but the most vulnerable, the ones who need it the most, like Rook, have the hardest time accessing it.
According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness, one in every three unhoused Americans are completely offline, having no access to the internet, a necessary utility for modern life. This systemic discrimination is perpetrating generational poverty for our most vulnerable Americans. Rook planned on attending a university after high school, but due to unpredictable circumstances and unreliable internet connectivity, he did not view it as a viable option. This story is far too common for unhoused and low-income youth in this country.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people in low-income households have less access to internet services and more than one in every six people living in poverty have no access to the internet at all. This is one of the many reasons why remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic set low-income students back further than their better well-off peers in the distant classroom. The pandemic pointed out just how crucial internet access is for Americans to stay connected, and the White House is noticing.
“High-speed internet service is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity,” the White House said. “But too many families go without high-speed internet because of the cost, or have to cut back on other essentials to make their monthly internet service payments.”
You are likely eligible if your household’s income is below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line, or if you or someone you live with currently receives a government benefit such as SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, WIC, Pell Grant, or Free and Reduced-Price Lunch. Go to https://www.affordableconnectivity.gov to get connected today.
Broadband universal service has been implemented in other countries such as Switzerland, Spain, and Finland. It has been proven to have positive health and life outcomes for citizens, including reliable access to telehealth services. Internet access has also boosted the health of these countries’ economies, increasing employment by making job applications more accessible.
Policies like these will be lifelines for individuals across the country like Rook. “Being homeless was exhausting, all of my energy was going towards surviving without the tools I needed to do so,” Rook said.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is a tool empowering the survival of all Americans, recognizing the vital importance of the internet in modern American society.