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 Jean KlobucharDemocrats will not beat Trump without moderate policy ideas Harris revamps campaign presence in Iowa Sanders, Yang to miss CNN's town hall on LGBTQ issues 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 SmithThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again MORE (D-Minn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators introduce bill to block Trump 'public charge' rule Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator MORE (D-Hawaii), Angus KingAngus Stanley KingOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year MORE (D-Maine), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court 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."