Michigan Democrat to introduce plan to create 'digital literacy' commission

Rep. Brenda LawrenceBrenda Lulenar LawrenceMichigan Republicans sue over US House district lines House Democrats inquire about possible census undercount in Detroit, other communities Hillicon Valley — YouTube takes some heat MORE (D-Mich.) is proposing that the government create a new interagency commission to improve digital literacy nationwide. 

The Digital Literacy and Equity Commission will be helmed by the secretary of Education, or a delegate from the secretary, and have members from across federal agencies, according to a copy of the legislation shared with The Hill. Lawrence will introduce the bill on Wednesday. 

Although Congress is laying the groundwork to ensure broad internet access, including through the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, Lawrence said policymakers need to ensure Americans are able to access the digital services that are becoming more common. 

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“But as we spend our tax dollars to invest and ensure that we're connected and that we can use the internet, no one has stopped to say, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. Are we creating a platform that is accessible and equal to everyone?’ ” Lawrence told The Hill. 

The pandemic highlighted the need for digital literacy across various areas. In addition to the increase in remote schooling, telehealth options became more popular, especially to offer health care access in rural areas, she said. 

But for some Americans, the switch to digital methods limits them from accessing available resources.

“Before everything was filling out an application, so all you needed to know was how to read and you could do that — that's not the case anymore. And I know a lot of the resources are actually being left on the table because people don't know how to enter, to interact, to actually go online search and fill out, do the digital requirements and technology so that they can get the benefits they need,” Lawrence told The Hill. 

As opposed to departments tackling the issues on their own to address different pockets of the population, such as veterans or students, Lawrence said the goal is for the commission to create uniform guidance and recommendations. 

The commission will include members from across the Federal Communications Commission, the Commerce Department, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the Institute of Museums and Library Services, the Health and Human Services Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department. 

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The chair of the commission would also be able to appoint three members with knowledge in digital literacy, and the president would be able to appoint up to five members from digital agencies that are deemed “beneficial” to the commission. 

Within two years of the committee members' appointment, the commission will submit a report to Congress that includes recommendations on how to improve and maintain digital literacy, as well as recommendations for the federal government to create and implement a method to measure digital literacy in the U.S. 

The commission would also be tasked with creating a plan to increase interagency coordination to improve digital literacy services. 

Lawrence said she will begin her campaign to promote the bill to her colleagues, but is “praying” it garners bipartisan support. 

“Because it's not a partisan issue,” she said.