"Digital Equity Act of 2019" Introduced in the Senate

 

 

WASHINGTON, DC –Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and eight of their U.S. Senate colleagues introduced legislation to close the digital gap facing communities across the country. The Digital Equity Act of 2019 would establish two federal grant programs that would support projects at the state and local level that promote the implementation of digital equity plans. The bill would also support efforts that ensure students, families, and workers have access to necessary technological resources and information.

“I believe the future belongs to the connected. No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success. But today millions of American lack the broadband access that they need to meaningfully participate in the digital age. That means too many students fall into the Homework Gap, unable to complete school assignments that require high-speed internet service. It means that too many small businesses will not have the work force with the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. It means that too many communities will go without the civic and commercial infrastructure that is needed to thrive and grow. So thank you to Senator Murray for this legislation which thoughtfully addresses digital equity and seeks to expand technology opportunity for all,” Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said.

Digital equity is defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as the “condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.” Unfortunately, the United States has not reached a state of digital equity. People from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities, in particular, face a digital skills gap. This gap puts them at higher risk of being excluded from today’s advanced, technology-driven economy and society, thereby exacerbating wealth and income gaps.

The Digital Equity Act seeks to close the digital gap. It would:

  • Strengthen federal support for digital equity plans by creating an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State (with 5 percent of funds set aside for Indian tribes, Alaska Native entities, and Native Hawaiian organizations, and 1 percent of funds set aside for U.S. territories);
  • Establish a $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, or communities of interest (with 5 percent of funds set aside for Indian tribes, Alaska Native entities, and Native Hawaiian organizations, and 1 percent of funds set aside for U.S. territories); and
  • Task the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.

In addition to Senators Hirono and Murray, the Digital Equity Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

More information about the bill can be found here, and a summary section-by-section is available here. For the full text of the bill, click here.

 

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