Merkley Joins Luján, Matsui, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Increase Digital Equity, Inclusion, and Literacy

Washington D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, joined Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) along with Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to introduce the Digital Equity Foundation Act, legislation to establish a nonprofit foundation to leverage public and private investments to make progress closing the divide on digital equity, digital inclusion, and digital literacy.

The 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 NIH, FDA, and 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.

“As our world rapidly shifts online, Americans must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to use technology properly and successfully,” said Senator Luján, Chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. “That’s why I’m introducing legislation that creates a long-term solution to close the divide on digital equity by launching a nonprofit foundation to award funding, support research, and provide technology training and education to communities in need. Critically, this legislation also ensures the decision makers will consist of experts that reflect the diverse communities that are in need of these investmentswho will work closely with federal agencies to support and uplift digital equity-focused programs.”

“Regardless of age, zip code, or income level, Americans need to be able to get online. Yet for too long the digital divide has left millions of American families without a path to succeed in the 21st century economy,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “Closing the digital divide will require a comprehensive approach that addresses the many factors leaving families without internet access. By introducing the Digital Equity Foundation Act, we’re establishing a powerful new tool grounded in equity and laser focused on promoting economic mobility for communities in need. This legislation will jumpstart us down the road to lasting digital equity and inclusion nationwide.”

“I have been a longtime supporter of digital equity and ensuring all individuals, families, and businesses have access to affordable and reliable internet and broadband services wherever they live,” said Senator Merkley. “The ongoing pandemic highlights just how important equitable access to internet and digital services are for all of our communities. This bill would mean better access to broadband and internet-enabled devices, and that means better, stronger, more connected communities.”

“New Mexico students deserve a future that is as bright as they are. We can achieve that goal by creating equal access to broadband opportunities,” said Senator Heinrich. “Access to high-speed internet is also key to bringing telehealth services and economic development opportunities to rural communities. I’m proud that we secured major investments in the Infrastructure Law to help build out broadband infrastructure all across New Mexico, but we don’t have to stop there. That’s why I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation that would put together a Foundation for Digital Equity to continue seeking ways to make broadband access more equitable and affordable for every single American.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that access to devices and internet connectivity is the cost of entry to participate in the modern economy and keep in touch with family and friends,” said Senator Markey. “Millions of people, however, still lack those essential tools. The Digital Equity Foundation Act is a critical step towards bridging this digital divide and ensuring that everyone has access to affordable information and communication technologies. I am proud to support this legislation.”

“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 Senator Blumenthal.

“We commend Senator Luján and Representative Matsui 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, if possible, funded by future spectrum auctions, will provide a sustainable way to tackle this part of the digital divide,” said Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future Project at New America, Open Technology Institute at New America.

“Digital literacy, digital skills training, and access to devices — these are some of the barriers to broadband adoption that Sen. Luján and Rep. Matsui’s Digital Equity Foundation Act of 2022 would address. This bill would use a portion of funds raised through spectrum auctions to fund resources at the local level to support schoolchildren, older adults, and others who need devices and training so that all generations have the essential tools 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 of 2022 enacted this year,” said Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs, Public Knowledge.

This legislation is supported by The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition; National Digital Inclusion Alliance; American Library Association; Public Knowledge; Open Technology Institute at New America; United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry, Common Cause, and National Consumer Law Center; Center for Rural Strategies; Common Sense; and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

Full text of the bill is available HERE. Additional quotes from endorsing organizations can be found HERE