WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call as he introduces legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to make sure Ohioans have reliable broadband internet access to work, go to school, speak with healthcare providers and stay connected with loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emergency Broadband Connections Act would help Ohioans who have been laid-off or furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic and low-income Ohioans who are harmed by the digital divide.

“The better your internet connection, the better you’re able to protect yourself – you need broadband to apply for unemployment, or to order groceries, or to have a telemedicine appointment,” said Brown. “But thousands of Ohioans don’t have a reliable internet connection. It’s either not available where they live, or it’s prohibitively expensive. As we talk about ways to both get through this pandemic, and build a more just country that works for everyone, internet access must be part of our efforts.”

Ohioans who live in low-income areas are too often at an economic and educational disadvantage due to little or no access to reliable broadband internet service. Addressing this disparity is critically important now when so many Ohioans are relying on internet access to communicate with others. Brown’s bill would also help decrease the digital divide that disproportionally hurts Black and brown Ohioans.

Princeton City School District Superintendent Tom Burton lent his support for Brown’s bill, citing the importance of broadband internet access in order to close the opportunity and academic achievement gaps.

“This effort is long overdue for a multitude of reasons. We would never think about giving certain kids textbooks and not others. Any student that is in a classroom is going to get a textbook, yet when it comes to the most powerful educational engine right now -- broadband internet -- it’s limited to only students who can afford it. This creates an unacceptable opportunity gap and further extends the achievement gap for far too many students,” said Burton.

Specifically, Brown’s Emergency Broadband Connections Act would:

  • Entitle households in which a member has been laid off or furloughed to a $50 benefit to put toward the monthly price of internet service and require internet service providers to serve eligible households at a price reduced by an amount up to the emergency benefit;
  • Trigger eligibility for the benefit based on qualification for the Lifeline program, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), or Federal Pell Grants;
  • Provide devices such as laptop or desktop computers or tablets to eligible households to ensure these families have the devices they need to look for a job, complete online homework assignments, or receive telehealth service; and
  • Require Lifeline service providers to make unlimited minutes and data available to those that currently rely on the Lifeline program to stay connected to phone or internet service, and provide additional support.

In the coming days, Brown also plans to introduce bipartisan legislation to help rural communities that lack the infrastructure necessary to make broadband services available to residents. Roughly one in four rural households cannot connect to the internet, and it is often too slow and too expensive for the households that do have access. This legislation will help ensure Ohioans in rural areas of the state have access to broadband internet and will help support jobs in these regions.