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Democratic Lawmakers Introduce Digital Equity Bill

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Gary Arlen)

A group of Democratic legislators have introduced a bill to create a nonprofit to help the government and its various broadband subsidy programs close the digital divide.

The goal of the Digital Equity Foundation Act (opens in new tab) is to close the equity, inclusion and literacy gaps that stand between current broadband use and the Biden administration’s goal of universal broadband deployment.

The bill would create a nonprofit foundation to “leverage public and private investments.”

The public investments include tens of billions of dollars, most going to the states, in broadband infrastructure and uptake subsidies through the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is overseeing most of the new broadband subsidies, and the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees some COVID-19-related subsidies and its Universal Service Fund.

The foundation will “award grants, support research, provide training and education, engage with stakeholders, collect data, and promote policies to improve digital equity outcomes,“ the legislators said in a joint statement Thursday (Sept. 15) unveiling the bill.

“As our world rapidly shifts online, Americans must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to use technology properly and successfully,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chair of the Communications Subcommittee and lead sponsor of the bill. “That’s why I’m introducing legislation that creates a long-term solution to close the divide on digital equity.”

Joining Luján in sponsoring the bill are Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) is lead sponsor of a House version. ■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.