Support the Digital Equity Act of 2019

By Judy Mortrude

The Digital Equity Act of 2019 introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) would create a new way of tackling the digital divide our country’s been struggling with since the advent of digital technology.  By establishing digital equity, we can close the growing chasm that leaves low-income communities behind.  

Among other things, the act creates the first federal definitions of digital equity and digital inclusion:  

Digital Equity is “the conditions in which individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in American society and the economy” and  

Digital Inclusion is “the activities necessary to ensure that individuals have full access to and use of affordable information and communication technologies, including reliable broadband internet service; internet-enabled devices that meet the individual’s needs of the user; access to digital literacy training; and the applications and online content that enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration.”

Digital inclusion means that people have access to technology as well as the tools and skills to use the connectivity.  Because they’re digitally excluded, 32 million U.S. adults don’t have the ability to use a computer to look up health resources, make a purchase, file taxes online, or conduct other activities that require internet access. Even those with digital access need digital literacy upgrades.  U.S. millennials came in last place among 19 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in their ability to problem solve with technology. For the most under-resourced communities and families, not being connected to the internet and not knowing how to use technology carries serious economic, social, health, and educational costs. 

The act would also require state leaders to create cross-agency, community-wide digital equity plans, which would be an important first step for investing in equity solutions, particularly for people with low incomes. CLASP urges policymakers to support this important legislation and encourages advocates to promote its uptake.