Senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., And Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Thursday they were introducing legislation to spend $ 1.4 billion over five years on local internet projects, in addition to the money for broadband expansion that could be included in an upcoming infrastructure bill.
Their bill, dubbed the Digital Equity Act, would fund projects to make the internet more accessible, such as hotspots in schools and computer training for the elderly. It would provide grants to states, localities and community groups.
The money would represent a small down payment on the billions of dollars the United States would have to spend to bridge the technology gap between people with fast broadband and those without.
The proposal comes at a perhaps opportune time, as senators are embroiled in messy negotiations over a possible infrastructure package that is a top priority for President Joe Biden. He offered $ 100 billion in broadband spending, and Republicans hit back last month with a $ 65 billion plan.
Murray and Portman plan to push for their legislation to be included in any infrastructure bill that may emerge, Murray’s office said.
The legislation reflects the bipartisan desire to start investing more, especially after the coronavirus pandemic exposed the poor internet choices of many Americans.
“Although we have made progress in expanding internet access to more families by investing in critical infrastructure like rural broadband, it is not very useful if they do not have the tools. and the skills to actually use their broadband connection, ”Murray said in a statement.
To be eligible for a grant, a state would have to write a plan to fight digital inequalities. Nonprofit organizations, community groups and private sector entities acting in the public interest could also apply for grants.
Murray introduced similar legislation in 2019 without Republicans signing it. This time, Portman’s backing makes him bipartisan, a big factor in the 50-50 split Senate.
“Too many Americans – especially in neglected and underserved communities – do not have access to high-speed internet, which is negatively impacting the way they live and work,” Portman said in a statement.
Software giant Microsoft has said it supports the bill, joining advocacy groups such as AARP and the National League of Cities. Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said in a statement that the legislation “will resolve the digital divide, promote competitiveness and ensure that all Americans can thrive in the new economy.”