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 KlobucharSocial media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates 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: Trump and Biden vie for Minnesota | Early voting begins in four states | Blue state GOP governors back Susan Collins GOP Senate candidate says Trump, Republicans will surprise in Minnesota Biden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states MORE (D-Minn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Trump health officials grilled over reports of politics in COVID-19 response CDC director pushes back on Caputo claim of 'resistance unit' at agency MORE (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats unveil plan declaring racism a public health issue Overnight Defense: US, Russia trade blame over Syria incident | Pentagon calls out China's 'counterproductive' military exercises, missile test | Democrats press Esper on COVID-19 response Democrats press Esper on 'concerning' rise in Pentagon's COVID-19 cases MORE (D-Hawaii), Angus KingAngus KingGovernment watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position Democrats step up hardball tactics as Supreme Court fight heats up Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE (D-Maine), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseHillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime House approves legislation making hacking voting systems a federal crime LWCF modernization: Restoring the promise 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."