News Releases

Senator Murray joined Eastern and Central Washington community leaders to discuss the digital divide and how her Digital Equity Act and President Biden’s American Jobs Plan would help ensure digital equity and expand broadband access 

8.49% of people in Washington state live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds – MORE HERE 

Senator Murray: “We have a lot more work to do if we want to come out of this pandemic fairer and stronger when it comes to digital infrastructure” 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) held a virtual roundtable with community members from Eastern and Central Washington about the need to ensure digital equity and expand broadband access for communities that have been historically underserved and overlooked.

Senator Murray joined educators to discuss how increasing access to the tools, support, and technologies needed to take full advantage of a broadband connection would benefit families statewide who depend on internet access now more than ever before as a result of COVID-19. Senator Murray was joined by Devina Khan, A STEM Computer Science/Essentials Teacher at West Valley Junior High School in Yakima; Lisa Karstetter, Microsoft Community Engagement Manager for Central Washington; Amanda Six, Director of the Libraries of Stevens County, and Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

“For a lot of people in Washington state, having access to the internet is a given and a necessity—we use it to pay bills, do our taxes, and keep in touch with our families. That was true before the pandemic, and it has been even more true during this pandemic as work, school, and socializing have all moved online,” said Senator Murray. “While we’ve made some headway expanding internet access to more families by investing in critical infrastructure like rural broadband, we have a lot more work to do if we want to come out of this pandemic fairer and stronger when it comes to digital infrastructure.” 

The digital divide, also referred to as the “homework gap” as it applies to students, exacerbates existing wealth and income gaps in our communities; subsequently, many people—including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, households with low-incomes, and rural communities, overwhelmingly impacted by the digital skills gap—are at risk of being left behind in an increasingly technology-driven world, absent intervention. Even before the pandemic, nearly one in five teenagers in the U.S. said they have been unable to complete homework assignments due to lack of a reliable internet connection. During the pandemic, this gap widened as many workplaces and schools moved online and 30 million Americans lack access to high speed internet.

In Washington state, 8.49% of people live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. 8.8% of Washington state households do not have an internet subscription.

“In the last year, COVID-19 has transformed the way we live—it has especially transformed the way we teach and learn. School life has been greatly impacted. There is heavy reliance on the use of tech. In this digital age, blended learning models are now being used globally in teaching where students need technology to learn, to do research, and to demonstrate what they’ve learned. For all of the above to happen, we need digital equity,” said Devina Khan, STEM Computer Science/Essentials Teacher at the West Valley Junior High School.

“When the pandemic first hit, most businesses, schools, and organizations had to pivot immediately to a virtual world. They were simply not equipped at all. It was a reality check around here and for many other areas of how unprepared they were to move into a world that was mostly digital...digital equality, equity, and inclusion are all very important. Educational and economic opportunities in the future will require that we remove all digital barriers to achieve them,” said Lisa Karstetter, Microsoft Community Engagement Manager for Central Washington.

“One of the big things we’ve realized is that a lot of people relied upon our electricity to charge their devices. They drive thirty-miles to town to do their work...and they need access to electricity to charge their devices. With CARES money, we purchased all-weather, solar charging stations that people can use while they use our high-speed wifi, 24/7,” said Amanda Six, Director of the Libraries of Stevens County. “Information and digital literacy is a huge concern for me. We are now entering second generational illiteracy in this area. There are parents in their twenties raising children who never learned how to use technology. The social ramifications of two-generational digital illiteracy is just profound… I am thrilled that Senator Murray is taking leadership on this and helping move the ball forward.”

Before the pandemic, lots of people did not understand that the digital divide was an issue that went beyond availability broadband. Senator Murray did. That’s why we have the Digital Equity Act. We are seeing local communities, all across the country, particularly during the pandemic, using their CARES Act money to address this issue, and they're doing it in very creative ways. They're trying to figure out how to make sure folks have low cost broadband, and how to make sure they have a device in the home—not just one on loan—and digital literacy support. What's really been clear is if folks at the local level use CARES Act money to provide these services, the need is there—the investment is wanted. And what the Digital Equity Act does is create more of those resources for that investment. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance is thrilled to be part of this solution,” said Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

In 2019, Senator Murray introduced the Digital Equity Act to help expand broadband access and bridge the digital divide. During the 2020 election, this bill was included in then-candidate Biden’s broadband platform. The Digital Equity Act would establish two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide:

  • Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: The legislation creates an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State.
  • Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: The legislation also creates an annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest.
  • Supporting Research and Evidence-Based Policymaking: The legislation tasks NTIA with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.

Earlier this year, President Biden also unveiled his American Jobs Plan, which includes a $100 billion investment to build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage, promote transparency and competition, reduce the cost of broadband internet service and promote more widespread adoption.

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