With the election only about a week away, Americans are submitting early ballots at a record-breaking level; demonstrating voters are looking forward to making their vote count in unprecedented times. So far, Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s respective policies have been laid out, debated, and defended extensively over these past few months. One contentious topic, especially as millions of students from K-12 are learning online, is how each candidate and their following four year term will confront the issue of the digital divide.
Under the Trump administration, in January the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a $20 billion implementation to build broadband in rural communities. However, the Trump Administration has also cut Lifeline, which supports families who make less than 135% of the poverty line with a $9.25 monthly subsidy towards their cell or internet bill (and an additional $25 discount for those who qualify and live on tribal land). Lifeline is the only federal program specifically designed to connect low-income people. Under Trump, the program’s budget has been cut in half and applications have gone down by 40% as a result of the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s actions that complicate applicants’ and providers’ participation in the program.
On the other hand, Biden’s plan includes adding another $20 billion to increasing rural broadband and passing the Digital Equity Act. This act would essentially provide $1.25 billion over five years to create two digital equity federal grant programs that focus on underserved populations, on a federal and state level.
Trump and Biden’s differences in policy will define the digital divide’s future, determining the lives of countless students as concerns about the pandemic, vaccines, and online vs in-person learning fluctuate.