WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) cosponsored the Digital Equity Foundation Act, legislation to establish a nonprofit foundation that would channel public and private investments into making progress in closing the divide on digital equity, digital inclusion, and digital literacy. The legislation is led by U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).
The legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
This Foundation will supplement the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) work to award grants, support research, provide training and education, engage with stakeholders, collect data, and promote policies to improve digital equity outcomes. The Foundation will be run by a Board of experts specializing in the fields of digital equity, technology, and telecommunications, and will represent diverse communities throughout the U.S.
Congressionally-established nonprofit foundations have had great success in supporting the missions of various government agencies, including the National Institutions of Health (NIH), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Park Service (NPS), and provide a mechanism to leverage public-private partnerships and support innovation. As the NTIA works to implement the broadband programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and connect our country, the Digital Equity Foundation will be vital to ensuring the most vulnerable communities have the knowledge and skills to take full advantage of these new connections.
“Nearly 33% of New Mexicans do not have an active internet subscription. That means that over a third of New Mexicans can’t pay bills online. They can’t access online classes. They can’t seek out telehealth services or connect to e-commerce opportunities. Some may even lack connections with their families and friends. I’m proud that we secured historic investments in the Infrastructure Law to help build out high-speed internet infrastructure all across New Mexico, but we should not stop there. That’s why I’m cosponsoring this legislation to establish a nonprofit foundation that will improve digital equity and create opportunities for all New Mexicans to access affordable high-speed internet,” said Heinrich.
“In the 21st century, digital skills are vital for success for students, entrepreneurs, and all Americans. Establishing a nonprofit foundation to drive investments to close the divide on digital equity, inclusion, and literacy will equip Americans with useful skills and knowledge,” said Luján. “I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation to bring more Americans online and make the most of access to the internet.”
“From our children’s performance in school, to our ability to find work, persistent inequities in digital access and literacy have far reaching consequences for American families,” said Matsui. “Across the country in cities and rural towns, millions still lack access to the resources and skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century economy. That’s why equity must be a central pillar of our long-term solutions. The Digital Equity Foundation Act will establish a powerful new tool that addresses these historical access barriers and lifts up underserved communities. This legislation will jumpstart us down the road to lasting digital equity and inclusion nationwide.”
“This measure will help communities across the country bridge the digital divide and close the homework gap. Access to dependable, affordable broadband and online services is essential to ensuring students, businesses, and families have the tools to succeed. Our legislation is an important step in addressing our nation’s disparities in broadband access and countering the connectivity gaps exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Blumenthal.
“From raging winter storms to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our nation’s dual crises of climate change and public health are a clear and constant reminder that internet and technology access are essential for everyone to stay plugged in with friends, families, and our communities,” said Markey. “Too many Americans lack access to these tools – especially when they need them most. The Digital Equity Foundation Act will help us close our nation’s digital divide by confronting inequity and connecting communities.”
“Broadband and communications technology are necessities in America today. Kids rely on an internet connection to complete homework, and it connects people to their work and loved ones. But for too many Illinoisans, these services are a luxury,” said Durbin. “I support the Digital Equity Foundation Act to bolster our efforts to make broadband and the opportunities connectivity brings accessible to everyone.”
This legislation is endorsed by the Open Technology Institute at New America, Public Knowledge, The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, the Center for Rural Strategies, the PtP Initiative, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Common Sense Media, Consumer Reports, the American Library Association, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Common Cause, the United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry, the National Consumer Law Center, and NextGen California.
“We commend Senator Luján, Representative Matsui and the other co-sponsors for recognizing that without sustained investments in digital adoption and inclusion efforts at the community level, the huge new investments in broadband infrastructure and affordability won’t close the digital divide. A Digital Equity Foundation dedicated to this work and funded by future spectrum auctions, will provide a sustainable way to tackle this part of the digital divide,” said Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future, Open Technology Institute at New America.
“Digital literacy, digital skills training, and access to devices are barriers to broadband adoption for many people throughout the country. They are also challenges for which there is no long term funding. Sen. Luján and Rep. Matsui’s Digital Equity Foundation Act would address that omission in our broadband policy by funding local efforts to support schoolchildren, older adults, veterans and others who need devices and training so they have the essential tools needed to fully participate in our society. We thank Sen. Luján and Rep. Matsui for their leadership on this effort and look forward to working to get the Digital Equity Foundation Act enacted this year,” said Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs, Public Knowledge.