Access to affordable and reliable telecommunications, energy, and water services is crucial to health and economic well-being. Nevertheless, too many households face challenges in meeting monthly utility bills. Some communities lack infrastructure for essential services, such as safe water and high-speed internet service. And even when service is available, it may not be affordable to all.
According to federal data, as many as one in three households in the U.S. struggles to pay their monthly energy bills. It is estimated 1.6 million people in the U.S. do not have access to running water or indoor plumbing. And some 40 million lack reliable online access, cutting them off from employment, health care, and more.
These disparities became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when using a high-speed internet connection enabled people to avoid in-person interactions that create exposure risk. High-speed internet access facilitated such online activities as telehealth services (see also Telehealth), connecting with friends and family, shopping for groceries and other items, working from home, and engaging in lifelong learning opportunities. Moreover, with the deep recession that resulted from the pandemic, some households experiencing loss of employment have built up debt in unpaid utility bills and faced risk of disconnection.