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Digital Inclusion

Federal Government Has a Role in Funding Broadband Adoption, House Committee Witnesses Say

Adrienne Patton

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Screenshot of the witnesses at the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Hearing

WASHINGTON, January 30, 2020 –Advocates for digital inclusion on Wednesday encouraged Congress to pass the Digital Equity Act and fund state and local efforts to close the digital divide.

The Digital Equity Act would allocate funding at the state and local level to bolster digital literacy.

At a hearing, National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer urged Congress to pass the bill. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-California, introduced the measure with Rep. Ben Lujan, D- New Mexico, and Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-NY, who were present at the hearing.

Representatives and witnesses alike turned their attention from solely the rural digital divide to urban areas where broadband is available, but adoption is low.

Rep. McNerney, D-California, lamented the “untapped” opportunity in households that could have broadband, but do not connect.

According to Siefer, the main barriers are cost and digital illiteracy.

Joshua Edmonds, director of digital inclusion in Detroit, said more than 40 percent of Detroit residents do not have access to broadband, and the lack of connectivity prevents residents from accessing important services, like online banking.

Although Edmonds said the city has made great strides partnering with the private sector, this is not sustainable without government resources.

Jeffrey Sural, director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office in the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, agreed. He said bridging the digital divide in North Carolina is only possible with state funding.

In his written statement, Sural argued that “existing social services can be leveraged to educate and inform about resources that may to be available to encourage adoption.” Sural believes the government plays an “important role by convening stakeholders and educating the public.”

Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy, lamented that states can prohibit communities from building local broadband networks. Sohn encouraged Congress to promote local networks.

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