Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide'

Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide'
© Stefani Reynolds

A group of Democratic senators, including 2020 contender Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharManchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Hillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation MORE (D-Minn.), on Wednesday introduced a bill that would fund state and local projects aimed at tackling the "digital divide."

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Klobuchar in a statement said the bill would help "bring high-speed internet to communities across the county." 

The Digital Equity Act of 2019 would create two new grant programs for efforts promoting access to information and telecommunications technologies.

It would create a $120 million grant program to fund the creation and implementation of "comprehensive digital equity plans" in all U.S. states, as well as a $120 million grant program to support projects undertaken by individuals and groups. 

The bill would also task the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with evaluating and providing guidance on digital equity projects.

The legislation was introduced by Sens. Klobuchar, Tina SmithTina Flint SmithFauci: Paul doesn't know what he's talking about Clean electricity standard should be a no brainer amid extreme climate impacts Overnight Energy: Democrats reach budget deal including climate priorities | Europe planning to cut emissions 55 percent by 2030 | Army Corps nominee pledges not to politicize DAPL environmental review MORE (D-Minn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats consider scaling back new funds to fight next pandemic Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up MORE (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Hillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration Top FBI official advises Congress against banning ransomware payments MORE (D-Hawaii), Angus KingAngus KingGOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal White House cyber chief backs new federal bureau to track threats Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights MORE (D-Maine), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLobbying world Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers blast FBI's Kavanaugh investigation as 'sham' MORE (D-R.I.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). A companion bill is set to be introduced in the House. 

It is one of multiple efforts by lawmakers to close the "digital divide," a catch-all term that describes the gap between those who have access to vital telecommunications and information technologies, and those who do not. Often, those in rural or isolated areas have less access to technology, leaving them disadvantaged in the workforce.

Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Broadband Caucus, has made expanding access to broadband a central message of her 2020 campaign. 

"For far too many individuals and families—including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities—getting online isn’t so easy to do, and I strongly believe that in 2019, we shouldn’t be a country of haves and have-nots when it comes to using the internet,” Murray said in a statement promoting the bill.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have also introduced a bill that would create a new office within the NTIA aimed at improving digital equity in the U.S.

The Digital Equity Act of 2019 received endorsements from a broad range of individuals and organizations, including Democratic Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, digital rights group Free Press Action Fund, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and more.

"I believe the future belongs to the connected," Rosenworcel said in the statement. "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."