(Washington DC) – This week, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) helped pass the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes a $ 65 billion investment to help families in the Washington State and across the country to access reliable high-speed Internet. This landmark investment includes Senator Murray’s Digital Equity Act, which will help bridge the digital divide by funding activities that aim to provide individuals and communities with the skills, supports and technologies necessary to take full advantage of a broadband internet connection when they have one. In addition, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will build high-speed broadband infrastructure to achieve 100 percent coverage, promote transparency and competition, and reduce the cost of broadband Internet service.
“High-speed internet is as essential as running water or electricity. For everyone in Washington State, a reliable internet connection means being able to get an education, apply for jobs, or access important benefits like unemployment. This was true before the pandemic and COVID-19 has only shone the spotlight on worsening digital inequalities, ”Senator Murray said. “This bill puts us on the path to universal broadband and will help reduce costs while bridging the digital divide. Everyone deserves and needs equal access to the Internet to be successful. This funding and my Digital Equity Act are important steps in ensuring that everyone in our state has the ability, tools and skills to connect to the internet. jobs with strong protections for workers.
Senator Murray was able to secure a significant increase in funding from $ 1.3 billion to $ 2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act. Senator Murray first introduced the Digital equity law in 2019, well before COVID. Murray has worked hard to build a strong coalition of over 100 organizations to build strong bipartisan consensus and support for this bill.
Senator Murray’s Digital Equity Act included in the bill will establish two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide by:
- Capacity building within states through grant formulas: Creates a five-year, $ 300 million per year grant program for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each state.
- Stimulate targeted actions thanks to competitive subsidies: Creates a competitive grant program of $ 250 million per year over five years to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions and / or communities of interest.
- Support evidence-based research and policy development: Tasks the NTIA with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policy makers at the local, state and federal levels with detailed information on the most successful projects.
More specifically, the Digital Equity Act would be a historic investment in digital equity for local communities – focusing on key needs beyond the simple deployment of broadband. Digital Equity Act grant funding could be used for everything from laptops and devices for students to digital literacy classes for seniors at a local library.
Of the $ 65 billion total broadband investment, Washington State will receive at least $ 100 million to help provide statewide broadband coverage, including providing access to at least 241 000 people in the state who are currently lacking.
The bill will also help drive down the prices of Internet service by forcing funding recipients to offer an affordable, low-cost plan, requiring providers to display a “broadband nutrition label” that will help families to afford it. comparing prices for a better offer, and stimulating competition in areas where existing providers do not provide adequate service.
It will also help bridge the digital divide by forcing the Federal Communications Commission to pass rules to combat digital redlining and creating a new permanent program to help more low-income households access the internet. 1,409,000 or 19% of Washington State residents will be eligible for Affordability Connectivity, which will help low-income families afford Internet access