PROTECTING SMALL BUSINESS, PROMOTING ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Access to Broadband: Affordability Supports Opportunity, New Business Creation, Flexibility

By at 5 December, 2022, 2:36 pm

SMALL BUSINESS INSIDER

By Karen Kerrigan –

As longtime proponents of policies and programs that boost access to broadband, we’ve seen the power that connectivity brings to economic opportunity and success. That is especially the case with small business and new business creation, as broadband connects entrepreneurs and their employees to the tools, markets and services that are critical to compete, innovate and grow.

While the bipartisan infrastructure package and other programs aim to deploy broadband to communities that lack access, one critical program has ensured that individuals can affordably connect right now, which is vital to working, learning, healthcare access, and much more in the digital economy. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has been a literal lifeline for millions of households.  The program’s funds will be depleted in the not-to-distant future, which should be spurring bipartisan action in Congress to extend support for this highly effective initiative.

As Roslyn Layton writes in Forbes:

“With a $14 billion appropriation from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has enrolled more than 14 million households in a short period of time and may be the most effective broadband benefit program to date with its direct to consumer model. Eligible households can receive a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service (up to $75 per month for eligible households on Tribal lands) and a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. The innovative program offers a valuable policy learning opportunity as lawmakers consider sustainable long-term funding options to continue it.”

As Layton notes in her piece, the ACP’s innovative program design and effectiveness is a “no-brainer” as a policy priority for Congress, and various legislative paths and strategies are available options for action such as Universal Service Fund reform, various market solution plans, or through a direct appropriation. There is no doubt that affordable connectivity is a sound tax-dollar investment that adds to the nation’s growth and productivity, while giving more people career and work options – such as starting a small business.

Digital Access and Entrepreneurship

In SBE Council’s groundbreaking survey and report of new business creation during the pandemic era, startup entrepreneurs emphasized the importance of digital tools in helping them launch their businesses. Obviously, entrepreneurs need broadband in order to access the digital tools, customers, and platforms that are essential for starting and growing a competitive business in the modern economy.

Fortunately, our nation is experiencing a new “startup boom” due in large part to an acceleration to digital. And women started more businesses that men during the pandemic, a positive development given the disproportionate toll the pandemic took on women in terms of forced exodus from the workplace. Connectivity and digital tools have provided the opportunity for meaningful economic participation through business ownership. For many women, flexibility through business ownership is a godsend, given the high cost of childcare and other family obligations (such as, for example, caring for elder family members.)

Providing low-income Americans access to broadband creates more choices for careers that allow for flexibility and wealth building – such as business ownership – of which 46% of our SBE Council survey participants said “the need for flexibility” and “to supplement current income” were top reasons for starting their businesses during the pandemic. (“Being my own boss” was number one.)  The financial support provided by ACP for those in low-income households is a force multiplier for opportunity and success. Access to broadband means access to lifestyle, educational, and career choices that facilitate social mobility and financial success.

Congress Must Act!

As noted by experts about the ACP, the program is certainly not “perfect.” However, in terms of bang-for-the-buck and efficiency, it works better and more effectively than many other programs. As Nate Scherer and Steve Posiak of the American Consumer Institute observed in The Hill:

“While the ACP is imperfect, it’s considerably better than most programs at administering taxpayer dollars efficiently. The fact that $14 billion has provided more than 14 million American households affordable internet access is evidence enough.”

It would be ideal if Congress took proactive steps rather than wait until the money runs out. Moving forward with a policy solution now would allow for thoughtful deliberation and bipartisan collaboration. That would lead to an even better ACP program.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

 

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