In a major development for community digital inclusion advocates, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) today introduced the “Digital Equity Act”, which would authorize more than $1 billion in Federal grant funding over the next five years to support digital inclusion programs throughout U.S. states and territories.
The legislation was cosponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jack Reed (D-RI), and a companion bill will also be introduced in the House of Representatives.
Senator Murray’s groundbreaking bill would create two major Federal grant programs, operated by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to promote digital equity nationwide. The proposed funding for each program is $125 million a year for five years — a total of up to $1.25 billion.
One program would be carried out through state governments, with funding allocated by formula, and would incorporate a state-by-state digital equity planning process followed by implementation grants to qualifying programs.
The other would be an annual national competitive grant program, run by the NTIA, to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest anywhere in the U.S.
The Digital Equity Act includes definitions of “Digital Inclusion and Digital Equity” which are essentially identical to NDIA’s definitions of these terms.
Responding to the bill’s introduction, NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer said:
“In the U.S., efforts to increase affordable access to the internet, devices and digital skills training are almost completely local. On the one hand this is fabulous because trusted community relationships are essential to effective digital inclusion work. On the other hand, financial support of local digital inclusion work is sorely lacking. The Digital Equity Act recognizes the value of local trusted institutions while allocating financial support.
“NDIA and our 350 affiliates in 41 states fully support the Digital Equity Act and look forward to its passage.”
NDIA will be providing further information on the bill’s legislative progress, analysis of its provisions and their potential impact on local digital inclusion initiatives.