In 2017, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, one in every six U.S. homes did not have a conventional home broadband connection (cable, DSL or fiber), or a satellite Internet link, or even a mobile data account for a smartphone or tablet. The numbers in Utah are similar with over 16% (1 in 6) lacking access to a critical broadband connection.

This lack of access is about far more than the internet. Technology plays a role in nearly every aspect of our lives and economy. Smart devices, the internet of things, and digital infrastructure have changed the way we receive doctors’ advice, connect with loved ones, apply for and commute to jobs, and receive information about our world.

Helping our neighbors to overcome these barriers to digital literacy and access is called “digital inclusion.” It's a process that includes basic training, helping with affordable internet service and device options, and a lot of support. The most effective digital inclusion programs are run by local organizations – libraries, schools, community organizations – that have the capacity for this kind of personalized effort and the trust of the participants.

Community digital inclusion programs rarely receive meaningful financial support, despite the crucial importance of digital literacy and Internet access for a variety of civic and economic priorities. The support that digital inclusion does receive is almost entirely from local sources. Despite approving hundreds of millions of subsidy dollars for rural broadband infrastructure — and with more billions now on the table — federal officials have shown little interest in funding efforts to ensure that all citizens can use those networks once they’re built.

But that’s finally changing! Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, has introduced the Digital Equity Act of 2019, which would set aside $1.25 billion over five years to support the planning and implementation of community digital inclusion efforts throughout U.S. states and territories.

Sen. Murray’s groundbreaking bill creates two grant programs to promote digital equity. One program would be carried out through the states, with funding allocated by formula, and would support a state-by-state digital equity planning process followed by implementation grants to qualifying programs. The other would be an annual, nationwide competitive grant program for digital equity projects anywhere in the U.S. The bill authorizes funding of each program at $125 million a year for five years.

We can all agree that every Utahn deserves access to our digital world. The Digital Equity Act of 2019 could provide an important new resource for community efforts to close the broadband gap throughout Utah. It deserves the support of all our senators and congressmembers, no matter which party they belong to.

As experts in this subject, Utah Communities Connect encourages you to join us in asking your congressman and senators to consider setting partisan politics aside, and based on its merits, support this legislation for the greater public good.

Learn more about the Digital Equity Act of 2019 at http://www.digitalequityact.org.

Utah Communities Connect (UCC) is a volunteer-run alliance that operates through volunteered time from individual members and staff supported time from alliance member organizations. Our mission is to bring awareness and action to our communities concerning information communication technologies around access, devices, and education.

This letter is a collaborative effort from members of the UCC Steering Committee: Shauna Edson, Vikram Ravi, Turner C. Bitton, Jacob Brace, Liesl Seborg, Mindy Holman, Charles Baldwin, Deneiva Knight

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