April 12, 2019
BRUNSWICK, ME – U.S. Senator Angus King this week joined a group of his Senate colleagues to introduce the Digital Equity Act of 2019, legislation aimed at closing the growing digital divide in communities across the country. The bill creates two new $125 million grant programs targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity” – and work towards providing equal access to information technology and educational materials for communities across the nation.
“The internet impacts every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from conducting business to pursuing an education to connecting with friends and loved ones. Put simply: it is the most important tool for anyone trying to participate in 21st century life,” said Senator King. “And it’s not enough to simply have access to the internet; you also need to know how to use it. By making these investments in digital equity and digital inclusion, we can ensure Americans of all ages and backgrounds are fluent in the technology that will drive so much of our nation’s future.”
To that end, the Digital Equity Act of 2019 strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by creating an annual $125 million formula grant program to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State, as well as an additional annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, or communities of interest. In order to make sure these projects are succeeding, the legislation also tasks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about results and recommendations.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five teenagers in the U.S. says they have 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,” widens existing wealth and income gaps in our communities; subsequently, many people – including 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.
As a co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator King has been a strong advocate for broadband infrastructure initiatives. Digital connectivity in rural regions is a key part of Senator King’s economic agenda to help grow Maine’s rural economy, support innovation and create jobs. In September 2018, Senator King wrote a letter to the USDA seeking specific provisions in the ReConnect broadband pilot program, including acquiring up-to-date broadband mapping data. USDA incorporated these provisions in its regulations for the program that it issued in December. In August 2017, he hosted a listening tour with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to discuss the importance of rural broadband for rural education, healthcare, and economic growth. Senators King and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) also successfully advanced bipartisan federal legislation in 2015 to support innovative strategies to connect rural students to the internet outside of the classroom, and wrote a letter to then-Education Secretary John King in April 2016 urging that he implement the changes.
Joining Senator King in support of the bill are Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.). A companion bill will also be introduced in the House of Representatives.
Read the bill text HERE.
Find more background on the Digital Equity Act HERE.
Find a section-by-section breakdown of the Digital Equity Act HERE.