Closing the digital divide has always been an urgent priority, but COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on existing inequities, further demonstrating the need for legislation like the Digital Equity Act.
Digital equity is about ensuring everyone – no matter where they live – can fully participate in our society, democracy, and economy.
In a world where digital skills and digital access are needed to get an education, invest in skills training, apply for jobs, access unemployment benefits, and more – digital equity is absolutely essential.
The Digital Equity Act is bipartisan. That’s because every state and every community stands to benefit from an investment in digital equity – red or blue, rural or urban.
Background on the Digital Equity Act and the Path Forward
Senator Murray first introduced the Digital Equity Act in 2019 to help improve broadband adoption and bridge the digital divide. During the 2020 election, this bill was included in then-candidate Biden’s broadband platform. Earlier this year, President Biden also unveiled his American Jobs Plan, which includes a $100 billion investment to build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage, promote transparency and competition, reduce the cost of broadband internet service and promote more widespread adoption. Senators Murray and Portman will be advocating for key provisions of the bipartisan Digital Equity Act to be included in any forthcoming infrastructure package.
Digital Equity Act of 2021
The Digital Equity Act of 2021 strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by establishing two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide:
* Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: The legislation creates an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State.
* Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: The legislation also creates an annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest.
* Supporting Research and Evidence-Based Policymaking: The legislation tasks NTIA with evaluating digital inclusion projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.
* According to the Pew Research Center, before the pandemic nearly one in five teenagers in the U.S. said they had been unable to complete homework assignments due to lack of a reliable internet connection. The digital divide, also sometimes referred to as the “homework gap” as it applies to students, exacerbates existing wealth and income gaps in our communities; subsequently, many people-including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities, overwhelmingly impacted by the digital skills gap-are at risk of being left behind in an increasingly technology-driven world, absent intervention.
* According to a 2019 report from Pew Research Center, 58% of Black adults and 57% of Hispanic adults have a laptop or desktop computer, compared with 82% of white adults, and 66% of Black adults and 61% of Hispanic adults have broadband access at home compared with 79% of white adults.
* Currently, 35% of rural Americans lack high-speed broadband access, and there are approximately 30 million rural Americans with no internet access.