Guest Editorials, Opinion

A Senate bill that can bridge the U.S. digital divide

Too many people across the country are left behind because they don’t have reliable, affordable access to the internet. But a bipartisan push to close this digital divide would be $1 billion well spent.

The Digital Equity Act, reintroduced last week by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, would offer financial assistance to help states and community organizations bring broadband access to millions of Americans now left behind by current networks.

That includes the more than 8% of Washingtonians who live in areas with no adequate broadband infrastructure. It would fund state and local initiatives aimed at promoting digital literacy and ensuring universal access to information technology.

Murray’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, tackles the tricky problem by establishing grants to help states and community organizations launch targeted digital inclusion efforts, including public computing centers, skills training and workforce development programs and making technology affordable for low-income populations. It complements other state and federal efforts to bring the rest of the nation online.

As President Joe Biden continues pushing for massive federal investments in infrastructure, Murray told a Seattle Times political reporter she was “very optimistic” her plan will be included in any final proposal. It should be.

When Murray first introduced the idea two years ago, many people considered the digital divide a nuisance — if they considered it at all. But last year proved that access to broadband is essential to the full participation in our democratic society, whether attending a virtual city council meeting, logging in to remote work or schooling, accessing health care via telemedicine or conducting other business.

Our reliance on digital platforms hasn’t lessened with the gradual resumption of in-person activities. In fact, there’s every reason to believe the digital shift is here to stay.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to close the gap.

This editorial appeared in The Seattle Times. It should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the editorial policy of The Dominion Post.