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The COVID-19 pandemic brought into focus an indisputable fact about the US today: access to quality internet service is key to full participation in society and the economy. As workplaces and schools moved online and households increasingly relied on internet-enabled services like ecommerce and streaming platforms, those with good internet service were better able to manage the transition than those without.
But inequitable access to high-speed internet has been an issue for much longer than the last two years. Policymakers and business leaders—especially those from low-income and rural communities—have long advocated for increased investment in broadband infrastructure to unlock greater economic opportunities in underprivileged areas. These efforts, along with the access issues raised during the pandemic, have inspired major action over the last two years. Federal COVID relief legislation like the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan included funds to support broadband expansion, and a $65 billion investment in broadband was one of the major components of the bipartisan infrastructure package signed into law last November.
The importance of connecting more Americans has grown as the internet has become a more ubiquitous part of society and the economy over time. Beginning in the 1990s, the internet moved from primarily government and academic uses to application for communications, business, and other wide-ranging uses. By 2000, just over half of US adults reported using the internet in some capacity, and innovations like ecommerce and smartphones encouraged even greater adoption in the two decades since. Today, 93% of American adults report using the internet, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center.