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 KlobucharBiden hosts potential VP pick Gretchen Whitmer on podcast Why Gretchen Whitmer's stock is rising with Team Biden Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats 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 SmithDemocrats call for pollution reduction requirements in any aid for airlines, cruises Democratic Senators introduce bill to provide free coronavirus testing Democratic senators ask prison operators for answers on coronavirus plans MORE (D-Minn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus MORE (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill Democratic senators want probe into change of national stockpile description Democratic senators ask IRS to extend tax filing deadline amid coronavirus outbreak MORE (D-Hawaii), Angus KingAngus KingWe weren't ready for a pandemic — imagine a crippling cyberattack Senators offer bill to extend tax filing deadline Russia using coronavirus fears to spread misinformation in Western countries MORE (D-Maine), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights | Court sides with tribes in Dakota Access Pipeline case | Trump officials walk away from ethanol court fight Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights 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."