Closing the digital divide in America is more than just an infrastructure challenge—it’s an economic one, too. Across the country, too many homes and businesses still don’t have access to adequate broadband infrastructure, and in many communities the infrastructure in place is not enough to ensure that all residents get to participate in the local economy.
In order to get a job in most cities, towns, and villages, an applicant needs an affordable, reliable broadband connection to search for job listings and submit application materials. He or she needs a device appropriate for assembling a resume and completing forms (and creating a resume on a cell phone is hard!). And he or she needs the technical skills to be able to search for jobs, set up an email account if needed, and write and format application materials. Without each piece of the puzzle, this resident is stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide, unable to access opportunity or upward mobility.
That is where the Digital Equity Act of 2019 (S. 1167/H.R. 4486), championed by Senator Patty Murray (Wash.) and Representative Jerry McNerney (Calif.), can make a difference in communities around the country. The Digital Equity Act would create two new grant programs in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to promote digital equity. Half of the funding would be formula funding allocated to states for digital equity planning and programming. The other half would be competitive grant funds, open to local governments and organizations doing on-the-ground work to increase broadband affordability, provide skills training and equip residents with devices.
The Digital Equity Act needs more cosponsorship to gain momentum and be taken up by congressional committees for markup. NLC has sent letters to the bill’s lead sponsors in the House and Senate thanking them for their work. Tweet your senators and representatives today to ask them to cosponsor this critical legislation. Your city can also publicly join the growing list of endorsing organizations that support digital equity by completing a brief form online.
About the Author: Angelina Panettieri is the Principal Associate for Technology and Communication at the National League of Cities. Follow her on twitter at @AngelinainDC.