REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS DURING A LISTENING SESSION ON THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
South Court Auditorium
2:20 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, Vincent. Hi, everyone. I’m looking at you on a screen, but I’ll look at you here.
But I’m really looking forward to our conversation. And I want to thank you all for taking time out of your busy lives to join us for this conversation. It is truly an honor to welcome all of you.
As students and parents, Tribal leaders, and farmers from urban and rural areas, each of you can speak to the need for affordable and accessible high-speed Internet.
And I want to begin by talking about another era — seemingly a lifetime ago and well before the Internet — and it was the dawn of electricity. Now, I think most of us were not born at that time, but let’s just think about what dark days they were. When many Americans were left out, they were literally left in the dark because they didn’t have access to electricity — which, of course is so essential, as we all now know, to almost everything we must do to be productive.
So, understanding that, in 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration. And the following year, he signed the Rural Electrification Act into law. And so, what happened was that we decided — and he decided at the federal level, where we have the best capacity to do work that requires scale across our country — what he did and what they then did, was to send crews to rural communities, helping to wire farms and homes with electricity. So, literally, government lit up America.
Today, I believe we must act again, and act in that way — understanding our capacity and our responsibility to connect America and to allow all Americans to have access to those basic needs that allow them to raise their families, allow them to educate their families, to do their work.
And in the 21st century, broadband is critical to all of that, and broadband is critical infrastructure, therefore.
Because just think about the pandemic, how families attended to their needs: attending school online, running their businesses online, going to the doctor online, working from home online. And also, think about how many could not do any of that and missed out on these critical lifelines because they didn’t have access to high-speed Internet.
And think about it in the context of, as we move forward, where telemedicine — and we’re going to talk about that today — will continue to allow Americans who live far away from a doctor or a mental health provider to receive high-quality care. Think about it in terms of the remote work that we now know can happen and will continue to allow companies in the United States to find talent outside of urban centers.
You know, I’ve spent a lot of time in rural America. One of the things that, especially the grandparents will talk about, are how their children have to leave because there’s no work where they live in rural parts of America. And so, they have to leave the place they grew up, the place where they want their children to know their grandparents because they — they’re trying to find work. Well, telework is one of the solutions to that.
Let’s think about small businesses and how they rely and — we have learned in the pandemic — will rely on access to high-speed Internet to be able to talk to their customers, to move their products, and to tap into new markets online.
So, for every American to share in that opportunity, we have got to remove the barriers. And in particular, I think there are three, but we have to remove these barriers to take — so we can take high-speed Internet nationwide.
So, first, let’s talk about what we need to do to remove the barriers to access. Forty-two million Americans live in areas without reliable broadband. One in three Americans who live in rural areas and Tribal lands do not have access to broadband.
And we know that these Americans are not alone. As we will hear today, families and cities also lack access to high-speed Internet.
Second, one of the barriers we need to address is the issue of affordability. Over 65 million Americans live in areas with only one high-speed Internet provider. So that means what? No competition. More than 200 million live in areas with only one or two providers. This lack of competition drives up prices, because if the provider doesn’t have to compete with somebody else — right? — they’ve got basically a corner on the market. We need to deal with that competition.
The third barrier is equity. And the disparities are clear: Fewer Black and brown Americans use home broadband than white Americans. And those Americans who earn less than $30,000 a year are less likely to have high-speed Internet at home. So, we’re talking about racial disparities. We’re talking about income disparities. And why does that matter? Well, because it leads to other disparities. Because when people are cut off from high-speed Internet, they are also being cut off from opportunity.
So the President and I have a plan — and it is called the American Jobs Plan — that would expand “affordable” and “accessible.” These two things go hand in hand: affordability and accessibility. And we would expand both for high-speed Internet to every American household.
Our plan would build broadband infrastructure like laying fiber-optic cables to reach 100 percent of our population. We would increase competition to reduce costs. And we would ensure that every American — no matter where they live, no matter how much they have in terms of income and therefore how much they can afford to pay — would be able to access high-speed Internet at home.
And as we connect America, we will create both good jobs and economic opportunity. We will help our students succeed. We will help our small businesses succeed. And we will help our nation compete.
And I’m just going to end with one quick story. So, last month, I was in New Hampshire, and I visited the New Hampshire Electric Co-Op. So it’s a rural electric co-op, and it was — it was started by farmers back in connection with that 19- — right? — in the 1930s — the Rural Electrification Act. And it brought electricity to the rural areas in that state.
So I went to visit with them because, of course, they’re very proud about what they did way back in the day to make sure all of rural America in that region had access to electricity. And guess what they’re doing now?
Fast forward 90 years and that same co-op, in the — in the midst of COVID, laid 100 miles of broadband lines in just 100 days. So they’re almost literally using the foundation that they built on electrification to create access to high-speed Internet. And I believe we can do this kind of work across our country. I know we can get it done.
And we’re going to hear stories from each of you about your ingenuity and how you’ve been innovative in times of stress, in times of need, and how we can be inspired by your work to see what we are capable of at a nationwide scale.
And I’m very proud to lead our administration’s effort to get this done, and I look forward to hearing from all of you today.
So, again, thank you for your time, and let’s start our discussion. And, Vincent, I’m going to turn it back over to you.
(The listening session commences.)
(The listening session concludes.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Vincent. Well, listen, ex- — each of you, thank you for sharing your stories. Yours is the American story. And while we have so much to be proud of, there’s still a lot of work we have to do.
I will — I’m going to talk about you guys — (laughs) — not behind your back, but I’m going to be talking about you and what you’ve shared today because I think it’s really important to help people understand how fundamental this is. It’s just — it’s just basic stuff. And, you know, let’s talk away the kind of grand gestures about it.
Let’s just realize that, you know, in the 21st century — to do the work that needs to be done to — to take care of a community; to raise a family; to bring healthcare — mental healthcare; to grow things on a farm — American industry; to think about who’s been left out or left behind and make sure that they’re connected. It’s all of this. It’s all of this, and it’s very basic. And I do believe this is very doable.
And so, you know, I’m in D.C. right now, and this is going to be a conversation that I’m going to continue to have with the folks here and around the country. And it’s going to be about telling your stories and then getting something done. Because it really is pretty basic, and it really is pretty simple. We just need to get it done. Like, there’s no — we know that we need to get done: We need to connect people. We need to do what they did in the 1930s with the electrification plan.
It’s been done before. We can do it again. And it is imperative that we do to the wellbeing of all people in our communities and in our country, and for the sake of what we need to do to compete in a world market. And just what is — you know, I — I appreciate also Kimberly’s point: This is also a civil rights issue, and it is about equity and fairness.
So, I thank you all very much for your time. I look forward to staying in touch. And, Vincent, thank you for moderating us today. Thank you.
END 3:20 P.M. EDT