A year ago, Georgia’s Governor called Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan “a slap in the face to hardworking Georgians.” Now our state is touting $400 million in new rural broadband projects funded by the bill.

State Rep Park Cannon represents Midtown Atlanta in the Georgia House of Representatives

The federal stimulus funding speaks to the broad, bipartisan support for rural broadband. It’s vital now we follow common-sense principles to get the job done right: prioritize unserved communities, demand transparency, and let all providers compete fairly for funding. We can wire every corner of our state if we stay focused and refuse to squander dollars on political patronage or divert them to luxury projects in communities that already have fast networks.

But when it comes to closing Georgia’s digital divide, the rural gap is only one front in the war. We also need bipartisanship from the Governor on the larger, more challenging piece of the puzzle: helping unconnected Georgians get online in the neighborhoods across our state that already have world-class broadband networks in place but aren’t signed up.

In fact, while 90% or more of the homes across our state already have broadband available, fewer than 70% are actually signed up at home. Broadband adoption rates are particularly low among communities of color, people with disabilities, and lower-income families.

The funds are in place to achieve universal broadband – a goal shared across the partisan divide. The next step is to stitch together a concrete plan – a bottom-up, neighborhood-focused strategy for eliminating Georgia’s digital divide.

Let’s start with the roadmap. For years, discount programs and public-private partnerships have made progress signing up the unconnected. Atlanta’s Get Our Kids Connected initiative, for example, partnered with Comcast to offer free home internet service to unconnected students in need during the pandemic. Low-income programs offered by providers have connected at least 14 million Americans over the past decade.

The formula for these programs’ success is straightforward: leverage the world-class broadband already in place in most cities and suburbs across Georgia. Make sure low-income residents can afford to connect. And partner with local institutions – school districts, Boys & Girls Clubs, community centers – to offer training and mentoring to get everyone signed up.

Now, President Biden’s infrastructure bill will deliver the rocket fuel to scale this model nationwide. The bill’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) will offer low-income families $30 a month to buy home internet service from the provider of their choice. Combined with the discount programs most providers already offer low-income customers, the ACP means broadband service will be effectively free for millions of struggling Georgians.

It’s a monumental step forward, but it’s not a silver bullet. Years of trial and error also teach us that offering free or low-cost broadband is no guarantee eligible families will sign up – or even be aware of the offer.

One recent survey in another big city found that fewer than 10% of school-aged parents were even aware of their district’s free broadband program during the pandemic, and only 3 in 10 were aware of ISPs’ discount programs.

And even after hearing of these opportunities, too many who have been left behind in the digital age still struggle to understand how getting online could fundamentally change their lives for the better. They need to hear from neighbors and friends they know and trust who can explain and evangelize the opportunities that await online – and stand at their elbow to help them sign up.

We would never pretend educating our kids is as simple as building a school; to be effective, that school also needs strong teachers and an engaging curriculum. The same thing is true for digital equity: we can’t just build a network and then walk away – or pretend that building a 3rd or 4th network on top of the options already in place will someone convince the skeptics to get online.

Instead, we need an on-the-ground, people-powered approach that funds and empowers local community organizations to do the heavy lifting here: spread the word about free and low-cost broadband programs, teach the basic digital skills needed to succeed online, and spark the curiosity and courage – one neighbor at a time – to take the leap.

The billions in federal funding now flowing down to Georgia give us what we need to fund this plan for digital equity. Now, we just need bipartisan cooperation and commitment to make it happen.

Park Cannon represents House District 58 in the Georgia House of Representatives.