US senators renew push for $ 1 billion in broadband funding
(TNS) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray renews her push for legislation that would create more than $ 1 billion in grants over five years to bridge the digital divide and provide high-speed internet access to those who don’t. have not.
Murray, the senior Democratic Senator from Washington, first introduced the Digital Equity Act in 2019. The 2021 version of the legislation, introduced Thursday, is co-sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Senator Angus King, I-Maine.
Their plan could pay for increased access through projects across the country, such as hot spots in schools and libraries, and computer training at senior centers. It would distribute $ 250 million annually through two grant programs – half directed to states and half available as competitive grants to community organizations.
At a press conference Thursday, Murray said the lack of reliable broadband internet service for some was apparent even before the COVID-19 pandemic. “The last 15 months have only made things worse,” said Murray. “I have heard heartbreaking stories all over our state.”
Murray was joined at the press conference by Microsoft President Brad Smith and local library and education officials.
“As we like to say, broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century,” Smith said. Yet, he noted, tens of millions of Americans do not have broadband access at home.
While many take the fast internet for granted, its absence can make it difficult to attend a virtual school, register for vaccines, obtain unemployment benefits, and apply for a job.
“We have known about the digital divide for years and we chose to look away because we could. The pandemic has clearly shown that we can no longer look away, and that is a good thing,” said Susan Enfield. , Superintendent of Highline Public Schools.
Murray cited data from the 2019 census showing that 36 million US households do not subscribe to wireline broadband service, including 8.8% of Washington households. A 2019 report from the Pew Research Center found that 79% of white adults have broadband access at home, compared to 66% of black adults and 61% of Hispanic adults.
Murray’s digital equity proposal was included as part of President Joe Biden’s campaign platform in 2020. Biden’s proposed infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, includes $ 100 billion to develop high speed broadband capability.
While Biden and Senate Republicans disagreed over the size and scope of the infrastructure bill, Murray said she was “very optimistic” that her bipartisan proposal would be included as part of any final deal on infrastructure.
Murray, the third Senate Democrat, is well positioned to influence spending plans as chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Deputy Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
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