Broadband bipartisanship? Senators introduce digital equity push

The legislation, filed Thursday, would send $1.4 billion over five years to projects such as Internet hotspots or computer training for seniors to states, localities and community groups.

Sens Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Thursday that they are introducing legislation to spend $1.4 billion over five years for local Internet projects, in addition to money for broadband expansion. , which can be included in one. Upcoming Infrastructure Bill.

His bill, called the Digital Equity Act, would pay for projects to make the Internet more accessible, such as school-based hotspots and computer training for seniors. It will provide grants to states, localities and community groups.

The money would represent a small down payment on the billions of dollars America would need to spend to close the tech divide for people with fast broadband connections and those without one.

The proposal comes at an opportune time, as senators are deep in dirty talks over a potential infrastructure package that is a top priority for President Joe Biden. He as proposed $100 billion in broadband spending, and Republicans competition With plans for $65 billion last month.

Murray’s office said that Murray and Portman plan to incorporate their legislation into whatever infrastructure bill may come up.

The legislation reflects a bipartisan desire to initiate more investment, especially as the coronavirus pandemic exposed many Americans’ poor internet choices.

Murray said, “While we have made some progress in expanding Internet access to more households by investing in critical infrastructure such as rural broadband, it may not be possible if they have the equipment and skills to actually use their broadband connections.” So it doesn’t help much.” a statement.

To be eligible for grant money, a state must write a plan to address digital inequality. Non-profits, community groups and private sector organizations working in the public interest can also apply for grant grants.

Murray introduced similar legislation in 2019 without Republicans signing it. This time, Portman’s support makes it bipartisan, a key factor in a 50-50 split Senate.

“Many Americans – especially in unserved and under-served communities – lack access to broadband Internet, which negatively affects the way they live and work,” Portman said in a statement.

Software giant Microsoft said it is extending its support behind the bill, joining with advocacy groups such as AARP and the National League of Cities. Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement that the legislation will “address the digital divide, boost competition and ensure that all Americans can thrive in the new economy.”

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