Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), and Senator Angus King (I-ME) introduced new bipartisan legislation aimed at closing the growing digital divide in communities across the country. The Digital Equity Act of 2021 would create new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”— a concept 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.”
According to 2019 U.S. Census data, 36 million households do not subscribe to a wireline broadband service—including 8.8% of Washington state households. 26 million of these households are in urban areas. 10 million are in rural areas. The lower a household’s income, the less likely they are to consistently subscribe to a wireline broadband service.
To that end, the Digital Equity Act of 2021 strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by establishing two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide:
- Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: The legislation creates 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.
- Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: The legislation also creates an annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest.
- Supporting Research and Evidence-Based Policymaking: The legislation tasks NTIA with evaluating digital inclusion projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.
The Digital Equity Act of 2021 is endorsed by over 100 organizations, including: AARP, Alliance for Community Media, American Library Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Broadband Connects America, Center for Law and Social Policy, Center for Media Justice, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, Coalition on Adult Basic Education, Common Cause, Common Sense, Consortium for School Networking, Competitive Carriers Association, EdTech Center @ World Education, Free Press Action Fund, International Society for Technology in Education, Microsoft, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, National Coalition for Literacy, National Collaborative for Digital Equity, National Congress of American Indians, National Consumer Law Center on behalf of their low-income clients, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National League of Cities, National Parent Teacher Association, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, NTEN, Public Knowledge, Rural Telecommunications Congress, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the Urban Libraries Council.
Senators Murray, Portman, and King Introduce Major Bipartisan Legislation to Close Digital Divide, Promote Digital Equity; Legislation Endorsed by ALA, ULC, and Others
Filed by June 10, 2021on