In a rare glimmer of Beltway bipartisanship, Democrats and some Republicans came together to pass Joe Biden’s massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. From fixing roads and bridges to connecting more Georgians to broadband, the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) will transform Georgia’s economy.
Every Georgian stands to benefit from this historic bill. The bipartisan plan will deliver $8.9 billion in the next five years to fix our state’s roads, $225 million to fix our replace ailing bridges, and $619 million to upgrade our airports. At least $100 million – and likely several times that number – will build high-speed broadband networks in the rural areas of our state where internet service isn’t yet available.
But some of the IIJA’s most important provisions are more narrowly targeted to urban communities – with an emphasis on diverse, low-income neighborhoods too often overlooked and forgotten.
The bill also includes a strikingly bold plan to eliminate the digital divide in urban communities, where Black families are significantly less likely to have home internet service even where ultra-fast networks are widely available.
A patchwork of bold local partnerships, discount programs from ISPs, and temporary federal assistance programs helped put a big dent in this broadband “adoption gap” during the pandemic. Now, the infrastructure bill could deliver the knockout punch.
It commits $14 billion to create an Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which will allow any household earning up to double the poverty line (which includes almost one in three Georgians) to get up to $30 a month to buy home internet service. It also layers on funding to help wire apartment buildings, schools, libraries, clinics, and other community buildings in high-poverty urban neighborhoods.
And to make sure unconnected families actually can fully take advantage of these game-changing programs, the bill even includes almost $3 billion to fund digital equity outreach and education programs. Closing the digital divide will happen one unconnected household at a time, and this bill commits the resources to seeing the task through.
Moreover, the bill includes vitally important rules to ensure that Black-owned businesses have a fair opportunity to compete for contracts as this wave of federal spending filters down through state governments and into our communities.
The bill acknowledges that “discrimination and related barriers continue to pose significant obstacles for minority- and women-owned businesses” competing for infrastructure contracts. To counter these deep-seeded historical inequities, the bill calls for at least 10% of all funding to be awarded to small businesses owned and managed by minorities or women.
These vitally important protections make sure Black-owned businesses across Georgia will have a seat at the table as these historic, job creating investments more equitably expand opportunity in our communities.
The IIJA represents a historic step forward for Georgia. But passing the bill into law is just the first step.
State agencies are tasked with awarding contracts will need to live up to the bill’s commitments to diversity in contracting.
Now, the real work of fixing our roads, increasing minority government contracting, and stringing broadband wires will begin. Let’s make sure it gets done the right way.