‘Airwaves for Equity’ Initiative Wants Spectrum Auction Proceeds for Digital Equity

The initiative would dedicate proceeds from future spectrum auctions.

‘Airwaves for Equity’ Initiative Wants Spectrum Auction Proceeds for Digital Equity
Photo of Michael Calabrese speaking at the Aspen Institute event

WASHINGTON, February 28, 2022 – A new spectrum alliance wants the Federal Communications Commission to allocate spectrum proceeds to expand digital equity.

The newly established Airwaves for Equity initiative proposed at its launch event Wednesday that Congress renew the FCC’s authority to auction public spectrum and designate proceeds to endow a digital equity foundation, which would make annual investments in digital literacy, devices, and training to close digital equity gaps. The FCC’s authority to do so expires this year.

“If people don’t know how to use technology, don’t have the skills, or cannot tap into the value of broadband and internet for basic needs, our efforts to connect them are fruitless,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project. Calabrese said closing the digital divide will involve all the “three A’s” – access, affordability, and adoption––to ensure digital equity for all citizens.

Calabrese said the public airwaves, like other natural resources such as land, should be divided in a way that promotes equity amongst its users. “This public resource is owned by all of us, the American people,” Calabrese said, noting that use of the public airwaves has generated over $200 billion since the 1990s. The AFE wishes to direct that revenue toward funding a digital equity foundation.

As the federal government prepares to distribute $65 billion – and $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act – to close the digital divide from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the AFE said greater funding must be made available to address digital literacy and inclusion. Although the funds are projected to address access and affordability, AFE said the IIJA “does relatively little” to address digital literacy.

The AFE is made up of members including advocacy group Public Knowledge, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, the Schools Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition, Common Sense Media, the Center for Rural Strategies, and the Open Technology Institute at New America.

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