Federal lawmakers are stepping in to help close America’s ‘digital divide’. This fall, Representative Jerry McNerney of California; Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Assistant House Speaker; and Representative Yvette D. Clarke of New York, Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced H.R. 4486.

The house proposal would authorize up to $250 million per year in funding for state and community digital inclusion efforts. Half of the funding would support the development and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each state. The other 50% would foster a $125 million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to support digital inclusion projects developed by individual organizations and communities.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines the following terms as they apply to this article:

Digital Inclusion

Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).  This includes 5 elements: 1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3) access to digital literacy training; 4) quality technical support; and 5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.

Digital Equity

Digital Equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.  Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

Digital Literacy

NDIA recommends the American Library Association’s definition of Digital Literacy via their Digital Literacy Taskforce: Digital Literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.

“Connectivity is an equalizer — it’s a gateway for opportunity, and it’s imperative for our nation’s economic growth Yet, there are too many people in my district and across the country who are being left behind because they can’t afford broadband service or they lack the necessary digital skills. Not having broadband service means that it’s much harder for a veteran to successfully apply for a job, for an entrepreneur with an innovative idea to put the idea into practice, for a student to complete his or her homework, and for an elderly person who is unable to leave his or her home to use telemedicine services. We are long overdue for closing gaps in broadband adoption and digital literacy. That’s why the Digital Equity Act is so critical,” Congressman NcNerney wrote in a statement. 

Washington State Senator Patty Murray champions the bill. Murray says too many Americans lack the skills and technology needed to effectively use the internet and the tools and services it has to offer.

“Increasingly, Americans require a broadband internet connection to live, work, and interact. Yet far too many individuals, many of whom are members of historically overlooked and underserved communities, lack the skills, technologies, and supports needed to take advantage of the opportunities made available by a reliable broadband connection. Absent help, they are at risk of being left behind,” Murray wrote on the bill’s advocacy website.

“Expanding access to broadband is necessary but is far from sufficient. The Federal Government must work towards ensuring “all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy”—a principle called ‘digital equity’.”

The bill is currently under review by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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