“Our world has moved online”: The White House’s plan to close the digital divide
Vice President Harris announced a $14.2 billion investment to make internet service affordable for the 42 Americans who work and live without broadband access.
○ ● ●
Years before I caught my big break in New York City as a fashion assistant at my dream magazine, I launched a digital publication with a motley crew of aspiring journalists from across the country.
We were a remote team before it was normalized by a pandemic. And I learned some of the editorial nuts and bolts that would serve me well once I earned my foot into the fashion closet.
Back then, unpaid internships were still commonplace. And I couldn’t afford to work for free in an expensive city that’s gotten even pricier in the years since. It was because of the internet that any of those ambitions were possible. And a decade-plus later, it’s because of the internet that I’m writing — and you’re reading — this newsletter.
But as vital as the internet is to how we work and live, would you believe 42 million Americans do so without access to broadband technology?
A new initiative led by Vice President Kamala Harris hopes to close the digital divide once and for all.
“Our world has moved online,” Harris said at an event on Monday to announce the Affordable Connectivity Program. “For so many of us, we use the internet as an essential and integrated part of our daily lives — and we take it for granted.”
Here’s the program works: Low-income households can apply to receive a discount of up to $30 per month for internet service. Households on tribal lands can get up to $75 per month off their service. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers.
The White House calls it the nation’s largest-ever broadband affordability program and says 10 million households are already enrolled. And per usual with the Biden White House, there’s a dedicated website and phone number — (877) 384-2575 — for people to visit or call and check their eligibility.
The program, which replaced another initiative that was created to help families and households struggling to afford internet service during the pandemic, is funded by $14.2 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law Biden signed in November and administered by the Federal Communications Commission.
Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, who also chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the FCC, is one of the lawmakers focused on ensuring that these investments reach the communities that need them the most.
“She understands that access to affordable, reliable broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity to participate in nearly all aspects of society, including educating our children,” Committee spokesperson Tricia Enright said in a statement to Supercreator. “This program is one piece of a strategy to ensure that everyone is able to engage in the 21st century economy no matter where they live or how much they make.”
At its best, the internet enables connection, learning and expression. This is why, as I wrote in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, the digital divide is so dangerous for students with unreliable access to a computer and the internet. It excludes, on average, 13 students for every 100 from discovering, practicing and mastering skills that can later create economic value for themselves. And this marginalization is a threat to a robust, inclusive and sustainable creative class.
Still, the internet is no silver bullet.
I write with first-hand experience that tools aren’t enough to eclipse the systemic and institutional barriers that hold too many Black, LGBTQ+, disabled and rural creators back from reaching their fullest possibilities. As we get every American connected, it’s important to make sure we work to eliminate the biases and discrimination so we all feel seen, heard and acknowledged for the brilliance we bring to the world.
● ○ ●
Three countries walk into a bar.
To the left is the United States, in the middle sits Russia and to the right we have Ukraine.
The US is on the mic telling anyone who will listen that Russia has plans to invade Ukraine as early as this week.
Russia is feigning shock at such a notion, despite amassing 130,000 troops near Ukraine’s border (with more on the way) along with tanks and other military weaponry.
And Ukraine is like, “Can you quit being so loud, America?!”
If this sounds bonkers, it’s because it is.
And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy added to the chaos on Monday when he amended an earlier video statement posted to Facebook that said he had been told Russia would attack his country on Wednesday.
In his clarification, he explained he was referring to media reports of a possible attack.
Alexander Smith at NBC News reports that some observers said Zelenskyy appeared to Ukrainian speakers to have been sarcastic when he mentioned the possible date of an attack.
Ukraine officials have seemed frustrated at times with American assessments of the situation on the ground. But the Biden administration said it’s basing its evaluation on its intelligence.
“I’m not going to talk about specific intelligence assessments, I think you can understand that. We have said for a while now that military action could happen any day,” John Kirby, spokesperson for the Defense Department said to reporters on Monday. “I won’t get into a specific date — I don’t think that would be smart. I would just tell you that it is entirely possible that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] could move with little to no warning.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken relocated the few remaining diplomats from the Ukrainian embassy in response to the accelerated buildup of Russian forces.
“These prudent precautions in no way undermine our support for or our commitment to Ukraine. Our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering,” Blinken said in a statement. “The path for diplomacy remains available if Russia chooses to engage in good faith. We look forward to returning our staff to the embassy as soon as conditions permit.”
President Biden, in addition to vetting candidates to nominate to the Supreme Court and preparing for his State of the Union address two weeks from today, spoke on Monday to United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson to coordinate their response to Russia, whether it decides to invade Ukraine or take the diplomatic off-ramp. (Biden spoke to both Presidents Putin and President Zelensky over the weekend from Camp David.)
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday repeated the administration’s message that it was ready for whatever Putin decides. But if Russia invades Ukraine, the government said it would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Putin’s standing in the world.
“The severe economic consequences and irrevocable reputational damage caused by taking innocent lives for a bloody war will only weaken the country, not strengthen it,” Jean-Pierre said. “So we are open to diplomacy. And that’s what we want to be headed towards.”
● ● ○
“That’s the paparazzi!”
Those were the words of one of the second graders when he saw the press upon arrival at the White House for a Valentine’s Day celebration on Monday with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.
The students were on-site to view the decorations they created on display in the East Wing.
Each student was asked to use 11 words that reflect Dr. Biden’s values to guide their “heart-work”: Compassion, courage, family, gratitude, healing, hope, kindness, love, peace, strength and unity.
The second graders also received a tour of the White House — including stops in the Diplomatic Reception Room, China Room, Vermeil Room, Library, East Room, Green Room, Red Room, and State Dining Roon — before they visited an installation on the North Lawn of hand-painted wooden artwork in the shapes of the Commander and Willow, the Bidens’ puppy and cat. (The installation also featured a heart cut-out inscribed with 1 Corinthians 13:13: “Three things will last forever — faith, hope and love — and greatest of these is love.”
If your sweet tooth is as intense as mine can be, you’ll be happy to know cookies were had as well. As for the leftover cookies? Dr. Biden told the students she would give them to the teachers to pass out later.
“See you later, paparazzi!” One of the children yelled at the press as he waved.
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Good Tuesday morning. Welcome to Supercreator, your daily guide to the politicians and power brokers shaping how you work and live in the new economy. Send me tips, comments, questions — or just say hi: email@example.com.
TODAY IN POLITICS
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing this morning before speaking at the National Association of Counties 2022 Legislative Conference at the Washington Hilton in DC.
The House is out.
The Senate is in and will continue consideration of Biden’s executive nominees.
IN THE KNOW
READ ALL ABOUT IT
David Remnick in conversation with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Congress:
Honestly, it is a shit show. It’s scandalizing, every single day. What is surprising to me is how it never stops being scandalizing. Some folks perhaps get used to it, or desensitized to the many different things that may be broken, but there is so much reliance on this idea that there are adults in the room, and, in some respect, there are. But sometimes to be in a room with some of the most powerful people in the country and see the ways that they make decisions—sometimes they’re just susceptible to groupthink, susceptible to self-delusion.
The reason we have this generational situation that we do is also, in part, due to our structures. The generational aspect of things is absolutely pertinent to the kind of decision-making. There is this world view, this appeal, of a time passed that I think sometimes guides decision-making. President Biden thought that he could talk with Manchin like an old pal and bring him along. And, frankly, that was what the White House’s strategy was, in terms of what they communicated to us. That’s how they tried to sell passage of not even half a loaf but a tenth of the loaf. It was “We promise we’ll be able to bring them along.” There is this idea that this is just a temporary thing and we’ll get back to that. But I grew up my entire life in this mess. There’s no nostalgia for a time when Washington worked in my life.
Stanley B. Greenberg on working-class discontent:
Democrats can’t count on following the Obama playbook. To be sure, Obama is America’s most esteemed political leader nationally and in countries around the world. But by calling in Obama in every election, Democrats are telling voters they prioritize his political project. Presenting themselves as the party of Obama implies not only that Democrats represent a diverse, multicultural America — which is true— but also that they represent the voters who are doing well and want to help those who are still struggling. It says Democrats are not angry about the deepening inequality and corruption that has allowed big corporations and the top 1 percent to write the rules for all of us. It says Democrats are out of touch with working people.
Natalie Shure on the danger of last week’s Bush-era crack panic:
Harm reduction isn’t some hypothetical thought experiment on which we’re rolling the dice. Its track record makes it one of the most successful public health shifts of the past several decades. Studies in both the U.K. and Canada have shown that people often switch from injecting drugs to smoking them when provided with safe supplies. Needle-exchange programs have reduced rates of HIV transmission by up to two-fifths; one program in New York alone estimated that 87 potential infections were averted. By the early 2000s, one review had already identified 28 different studies concluding that clean syringe distribution decreased HIV transmission. A study in Washington showed that safer drug supplies curbed hepatitis infections by 60 percent. Safer smoking kits have also been demonstrated to reduce risky behaviors and infections. Safer smoking kits in Canada were correlated with a significant decline in hepatitis C, and the program was considered so effective that glass pipes have been included in vending machines. The vast majority of harm-reduction programming also offers health services for blood-borne and sexually transmitted infections. If I spent hours on this paragraph hyperlinking more and more studies recommending harm-reduction practices, I still wouldn’t run out of available material proving their unalloyed value.
Derek Thompson on why America has so few doctors:
The U.S. is one of the only developed countries to force aspiring doctors to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree and then go to medical school for another four years. (Most European countries have one continuous six-year program.) Then come the years of residency training. Many graduates have $200,000 to $400,000 in outstanding student loans when they enter the workforce. Medical education is a necessary good; nobody wants charlatans in the OR and snake-oil salesmen prescribing arthritis medication. What I’m asking is: What advantage do these additional years and loans get us? I suppose it’s conceivable that American doctors are 33 percent better than Swiss doctors, given our 33-percent-longer medical schooling. But good luck trying to find a national health statistic where the U.S. is one-third better than Switzerland. Americans die earlier than their European counterparts at every age and income level.
Overburdened with debt and eager to translate their long education into a high salary, American medical students are more likely to become specialists, where they tend to earn some of the highest doctor salaries in the world, in part because the U.S. does such an efficient job at limiting the supply of their labor.
As a matter of basic economics, fewer doctors means less care and more expensive services. A 2016 survey of patients in 11 countries—the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and eight European nations—found that the U.S. trailed in providing timely access to primary medical care. High educational debts and fewer physicians push more health-care spending toward intensive and specialized services, which are more costly.
Katie Haney on how the five love languages took over the world:
Though book sales have been largely consistent over the past year, Lundquist also speculates that love languages feel particularly relevant among both single and partnered patients lately — albeit for different reasons — largely due to time management and existentialist questions prompted by the pandemic. “We’re in this moment where people are diving back into dating, and maybe thinking differently about dating,” he says. “And for people who are in ongoing relationships, many of us who’ve spent a greater percentage of time with our partners are reflecting on questions like: Are we a good fit? What are the qualitative aspects of building a good relationship? How successful are we at comparing needs?”
Jason Diamond on NYC’s iconic Chopped Cheese sandwich:
One problem is that, over the last few years, people who have possibly never taken the 1 train above 72nd Street act as though the availability of this sandwich is a recent development, discounting and erasing the history of the people who have loved chopped cheeses forever. “I don’t think it needs to be elevated,” says Jayson Buford, a music writer who grew up in upper Manhattan and the Bronx eating chopped cheese after high-school basketball practice. “To change that would be to make a different meal. Some things deserve to stay original.”
Thanks for reading! You can support this work by becoming a premium subscriber for $5/month or $50/year. (Already a subscriber? Purchase a gift subscription for a friend or loved one or buy me a tea.) If you know someone who would enjoy Supercreator, forward today’s issue to them and invite them to sign up so they never miss an update.