LETTER: Device Vouchers in Reconciliation

September 16, 2021

Read the Letter Here:

Device Vouchers in Reconciliation

The Honorable Maria Cantwell, Chair
The Honorable Roger Wicker, Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chair Cantwell and Ranking Member Wicker,

Without a computer or tablet, more than 11% of consumers across the country can’t connect to the internet — despite Congress’ significant investments in deploying affordable broadband across the nation. Computers and tablets enable people to apply for jobs, fill out government forms, and successfully complete schoolwork. These tasks are difficult or impossible to do online with just a mobile device or no device. Even if a household lacks home internet, computers and tablets enable consumers to leverage private and public Wi-Fi networks across their communities. This is why Congress must include a program to give low-income consumers device vouchers in the budget reconciliation package.

The unfortunate reality is that most low-income consumers, including many senior citizens, students, and workers, can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars for a computer or tablet. Thirty-one percent of non-broadband users cite the cost of a computer as one of the reasons they do not have broadband at home. The numbers of those without a device are staggering:

Across the country, more than 40% of low-income adults don’t own a desktop or laptop.
More than 7.2 million people aged 65+ do not have a computer at all.
Thirty-seven percent of schoolchildren in lower-income families had to do their schoolwork on a cellphone and 25% were not able to complete their schoolwork because they lacked access to a computer at home.
Many more households, including 32% of Latinx families home-schooling during the pandemic, do not have enough computers or tablets, forcing families to make difficult decisions about who can connect and when.

To remedy this problem, Congress must pass a device voucher program that provides a broad array of low-income consumers with a voucher they can use to purchase a high-quality new or refurbished computer or tablet. Each household should be eligible for more than one device so that multiple members of the household can connect simultaneously. The program should also provide for robust advertising of the benefit as well as assistance to help eligible consumers enroll.

Congress can help connect millions of consumers through a device voucher program. We urge you not to miss this important opportunity to further close the digital divide by adopting it as part of the budget reconciliation package. Thank you for your consideration.

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