A foundation for digital inclusion

A foundation for digital inclusion
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Technology plays a role in nearly every sector of our economy and is intrinsically linked to our country’s prosperity. Growing adoption rates of social media, the internet and smart devices have changed the way we receive doctors’ advice, monitor our home energy use and commute to jobs.

Yet we are still grappling with the challenges and opportunities of this transformation.

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This turning point in our history demands that we make sure every citizen can participate in the promise of a new economic landscape. That means expanding access to broadband, bolstering our digital infrastructure and providing innovative job training and education solutions for the American workforce.

According to the Pew Research Center, almost 90 percent of Americans today are online. But not all access is created equal. In every corner of this country, whether in rural towns, on tribal lands, or even in urban centers, too many families face a digital deficit in their homes. That means a child might not be able to submit a homework assignment online or a parent could miss out on an online job application. In our great nation, no person should lose out on an opportunity simply because they lack access to the tools to compete. 

Those tools require infrastructure. We must make sustained federal investments in the high-speed broadband that allows everyone to participate in the innovation economy. Broadband is an essential tool for tackling unemployment, healthcare inequities, or educational disparities. Our national competitiveness will be determined in no small part by the level of our commitment to robust communications networks.

As we plan to rebuild our roads and bridges, we also need to consider the invisible airwaves that not only connect us to each other, but also fuel driverless cars, keep smart grids running and expand access to telemedicine in our communities.

We cannot build the networks of the future to support these exciting new applications without spectrum. We made significant progress in the last eight years to free up more of our nation’s airwaves for wireless broadband, and we need continued leadership from both branches of government to keep moving forward. The race for global leadership in fifth generation, or 5G, wireless networks is one America can’t afford to lose.

Most importantly, we must equip people with the tools they need to succeed within this connected world we are building. The Internet of Things has created unique high-skill jobs, but we aren’t adequately training students and workers to meet the demands of the digital economy. We should look at new ways to partner with community colleges, apprenticeship programs and maker spaces to expand opportunity beyond the traditional confines of four-year degree programs.

The potential of the American workforce has, and always will be, limitless. But today’s digital landscape means we need to rethink how we are structuring our education system and job training programs so that people have the tangible skills for everything from clean energy technology jobs to software engineering positions. Just as the Industrial Revolution dramatically shifted the way people went to work, the internet economy is forcing us to be innovative about what’s next for the American worker.

Our nation has always embarked on new frontiers with fearless ambition to attain the unknown promises of the future. Today is no different. But our continued success will rely on our commitment to building the inclusive foundation that all people can rely on to participate in this next technological frontier. I know that we are up for the challenge.

Rep. Matsui represents California’s 6th District and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.