Before his passing, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an iconic voice for civil rights and human rights, called Internet access the “civil rights issue of the 21st century.” This is indeed the case. The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on the fact that still too many Americans are without internet access in a world that requires online job applications, where telehealth appointments are an option and where our children rely on virtual-learning opportunities. The internet is a necessity for everyday life in the 21st century.

Recognizing this necessity, the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal benefit providing eligible households with a discount between $30 and $75 per month on internet expenses, was established under infrastructure legislation passed by Congress in 2021. Maryland provides an additional $15 — the only state in the nation to do so. Despite the program’s success, funding is set to run out in April. Recognizing the importance of continued access for those who need it most, several members of Congress have introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation, The Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act of 2024, to continue to provide affordable, high-speed internet options.

Congress must act on this legislation to help close the digital divide, a divide that has kept many from economic opportunity. More than 20 million Americans rely on the subsidy, including 800,000 veterans, 1 million college students, more than 3 million families with school-age children receiving free or reduced lunch and 5 million older adults.

Nearly 280,000 households are enrolled in Maryland, saving approximately $7.6 million each month. The 7th Congressional District represents about one-third of households enrolled.

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Passing the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act and funding the Affordable Connectivity Program is an investment in Baltimoreans, Marylanders and the American people. It is an investment in an equitable future, one that provides digital opportunity for all. Organizations such as The Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition strive to be a voice and advocate in the effort to close the digital divide through resources and education. As the legislation makes its way through Congress, we must consider the long-term impact of affordable, high-speed internet and how it ensures a more connected and inclusive America. We should all share this goal.

Kweisi Mfume, Baltimore

Cody L. Dorsey, Baltimore

Kweisi Mfume represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. Cody L. Dorsey is executive director of the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition, which helps bring vital resources to Baltimore’s most disconnected communities.