GUEST COLUMN:

Every Nevadan deserves access to affordable broadband

The past year has forced many of us to have to make some very difficult choices. Not only have Nevadans had to change the way they work, go to school and interact with friends and family, but thousands of people also saw their jobs scaled back, changed or eliminated overnight.

All through this time, the value of being able to connect to reliable internet became an economic necessity for all of us. Even though we’re now on the road to recovery from COVID-19, we should still recognize that communities that had been traditionally left behind before the pandemic are struggling even more today.

As discussions are actively taking place on what is likely the largest infrastructure package in history, we need to ensure that we’re investing in these very same communities to reverse historic inequities and advance economic opportunities for everyone.

Right now, an estimated 15 million Americans living in cities and suburbs don’t have access to broadband simply because they can’t afford it. According to the Pew Research Center, among families making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, 26% do not have broadband at home. For households earning less than $30,000 a year, 43% similarly do not have access to broadband.

If this doesn’t sound great, that’s because it isn’t. We have a responsibility to do more here. We need to prioritize infrastructure improvements alongside funding permanent broadband benefits that will help low-income families — who fell even further behind as Nevada went remote — get online.

One of the things the pandemic showed us is that we need to diversify and revitalize our economy by ensuring all communities have access to technology. Access to broadband isn’t just being able to watch Netflix or make TikTok videos, it’s an investment that strengthens public education, increases access to health care and creates economic opportunities that help prepare Nevadans for jobs of the future.

That’s why this legislative session, I was proud to work with Gov. Steve Sisolak on Senate Bill 430, which will launch Nevada’s State Infrastructure Bank. This effort will create more than 30,000 jobs over the next decade, and will also make Nevada a leader in infrastructure, with over $200 million in investments being made by the end of the year.

Additionally, thanks to the efforts Assemblyman C.H. Miller on Assembly Bill 388, we can establish new assistance programs for broadband access in low-income communities. With the bipartisan passage of SB430 and AB388, we are investing in a more resilient future for all communities, as we look to build the state that Nevadans deserve.

While we are doing our part here at home, at the national level our members of Congress are working on the American Jobs Plan. This wide-ranging plan for infrastructure will continue to build upon the success of the American Rescue Plan, putting Nevada on a path where we can continue to build back stronger.

One key component in the plan is addressing the barrier to broadband access, especially in low-income communities. The pandemic helped expose many of the gaps in service, as we saw students in low-income families struggle with virtual learning because of their lack of access to affordable broadband at home and others unable to work from home for the same reason.

Thankfully, private and public partnerships in the state helped address a portion of our needs during this crisis, but if the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that access to high-speed internet is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. That’s why I’m committed to finding solutions that bridge our digital divide and will work to bring reliable internet into every household that needs it.

As Nevada’s state treasurer, I recognize the value of hard work and making sound investments that pay off in the long run. While it won’t be easy, I believe that we can put in the work to invest in community broadband access to create growth and opportunities for the next generation of Nevadans.

The Biden administration has committed to ensuring that every American household and business has access to broadband internet and introduced an outline to achieve it in the American Jobs Plan. Our congressional representatives are on the front lines working to make this bill a reality for Nevadans, and I stand ready and willing to help.

Let’s get to work.

Zach Conine was elected as Nevada state treasurer in 2018 and plans to seek a second term in 2022.