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 Klobuchar New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy 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 will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump On The Money: Fed faces crossroads as it weighs third rate cut | Dem presses Mnuchin on 'alleged rampant corruption' | Boeing chief faces anger at hearing | Trouble for House deal on Ex-Im Bank Democrats renew push for contractor back pay from government shutdown MORE (D-Minn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Retirement bill blocked in Senate amid fight over amendments Senate Democrats call on White House to abandon plan to collect DNA from migrants MORE (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators introduce bill to block funding for border wall live stream Overnight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Perry replacement moves closer to confirmation despite questions on Ukraine MORE (D-Hawaii), Angus KingAngus KingOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing MORE (D-Maine), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators seek documents on Trump's alleged call for Barr press conference Senate committee advances budget reform plan Bipartisan Enzi-Whitehouse budget bill a very bad fix for deficits 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."