December 5, 2023
Congressman (R-OH-5), United States House of Representatives
Senior Director, Government Affairs, Qualcomm
Senior Vice President, C_TEC, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
At a time when digital connectivity is as crucial as electricity, bridging the digital divide — which highlights the unequal access to modern technology and internet connectivity among different demographics and regions — continues to gain priority across the U.S. Recognizing this, new initiatives and technological advancements are being rolled out with a singular goal: to bridge this divide and connect every American.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Technology Engagement Center’s TecTalk event, industry leaders championed a technology-neutral approach, discussing policy-driven efforts and programs that can provide unserved areas with equitable access.
New Programs and Technologies Aim to Bridge the Digital Divide
Congress recently enacted a bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Aimed at offering broadband connectivity to unserved regions across the United States, this initiative represents a significant financial commitment from the federal government.
“[It’s] very important that we get everyone connected,” Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH 5) said. “We saw during COVID how important connectivity was. A lot of schools sent their kids home during COVID with laptops, but there was only one snag — they didn't have the connectivity to do their homework.”
However, Latta stresses the need for oversight in the distribution of the $42 billion allocated for broadband expansion.
“The federal government should not be out picking winners and losers,” Latta said. “Anytime the federal government decides what's best … for a community, it's usually going to be a bad situation.”
In addition to better connectivity, Latta evaluated the nation's stance on spectrum management, emphasizing its critical role in advancing technologies like 5G. He underscored the need for effective spectrum auctions — noting the historical significance of this year as the first in U.S. history without any auctions — and collaborative efforts to keep the United States competitive in the global tech landscape.
Education Is Essential for States to Obtain the Technology They Need
Like Congressman Latta, Leslie Barnes, the Senior Director of Government Affairs at Qualcomm, is a big proponent of a technology-neutral approach where states can choose technology based on their needs. She highlighted how the BEAD program's funding guidelines support this approach, recognizing fixed wireless as a reliable broadband service.
“[Qualcomm has] been engaging with state broadband offices to educate them on the benefits of 5G fixed wireless, emphasizing the need for states to choose the technology that best suits their local needs,” Barnes said. “In some cases, that could be a fiber deployment, but when that fiber deployment is impractical or cost-prohibitive, fixed wireless is a great alternative.”
Looking to the future, Barnes sees a need for increased spectrum and collaboration in spectrum management, citing future technologies like 6G as essential drivers of next-generation connectivity and innovation.