Microsoft’s Brad Smith and other advocates of digital access joined a strong and affordable Internet connection for all Americans to improve broadband access and affordability across the country.
“It’s time to invest in broadband in a big way,” Murray said in the online conversation about his legislation, the $ 1.4 Billion Digital Equity Act. Smith, president of the Redmond-based tech giant, agreed, calling Internet access a basic need for everyone.
“Broadband had become the electricity of the 21st century,” Smith said.
Murray, who is a co-sponsor of the legislation with Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, seeks to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grant funds to local projects by focusing on three broad categories: connecting people to high-speed internet; helping them get Internet devices beyond mobile phones; and teach the skills necessary to navigate an online world.
The pandemic, the panel said, did not reveal what is known as the digital divide; They all said they have known about this problem for years. Instead, they said, months of working and learning from home made it impossible to continue to ignore the problem.
“When the pandemic forced schools to close in March 2020, my colleagues and I quickly understood that children would not be able to attend school without a working device and adequate broadband at home,” said Susan Enfield, superintendent. of the Highline Public Schools.
“I want to be clear: we have known the digital divide for years. And we decided to look away because we could. “
Murray, Smith and Enfield joined Lisa Rosenblum, Executive Director of the King County Library System, Sharonne Navas, Co-Founder and CEO of Equity in Education Coalition, and David Keyes, City of Seattle Digital Equity Program Manager.
Navas noted that when the Coalition for Equity in Education did a detailed investigation during the pandemic, they found that more than 18,000 King County homes lacked internet access and more than 285,000 students across the state lacked internet access.
In part, that information is what prompted Kitsap County Representative Drew Hansen to successfully push through legislation that allows city governments to become Internet service providers and expand the reach of broadband.
Effective in three weeks, Hansen’s HB1336 gives legal authority to utility districts, counties, towns, and port districts to offer retail broadband services to subscribers in the same way that a private company like Comcast does. The bill gives municipalities the legal authority to become Internet service providers.
But Navas said much more needs to be done. The pandemic demonstrated that the Internet has become a requirement in the areas of food, housing, education and health care. “(The Internet) was the only thing technically holding this state together,” he said.