What’s New in Civic Tech: $94B Digital Equity Bill Arrives

Plus, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance announces its Net Inclusion 2021 Webinar Series programming, a new tech policy clinic at Princeton aims to connect researchers with policymakers, and more.

The U.S. Capitol Building.
The U.S. Capitol Building
Shutterstock/Colin Dewar
Federal lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have unveiled a new $94 billion piece of legislation aimed at fostering digital equity across the country by — among other things — fostering better access to high-speed Internet.

Dubbed the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, the new bill is essentially a reintroduction of similar legislation first introduced in June. The new version of the bill was primarily written by Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. The bill is perhaps much better positioned to succeed now, even more so than it was nine months ago, with Democrats — who have long made digital equity part of their platform — controlling the House, Senate and the White House.

The other factor that makes this federal digital equity funding bill likely to have traction now is the way that the pandemic has exposed the importance of all members of the community having reliable Internet access, as well as the ability to afford and the skills to use it in meaningful ways. During the pandemic, Americans have been forced to use the Internet in large numbers to access vital parts of life, from telemedicine to telecommuting to remote education. 

The majority of the money connected to the legislation would go toward a new federal program that would work to expand broadband infrastructure in parts of the country that currently lack high-speed Internet. These places most often include remote areas of rural America as well as underserved parts of city communities where it is often not lucrative for private Internet service providers to build out access. The bill gives priority to projects aimed at helping rural and tribal areas, as well as those that would provide affordable Internet to low-income communities. 

Advocates within the digital inclusion and digital equity spaces have for years — dating back to before the pandemic — called for more federal funding to support broadband infrastructure, affordable high-speed Internet pricing and digital skills training.

National Digital Inclusion Alliance Announces Net Inclusion 2021 Webinar Series

Also in the digital inclusion lane, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has now announced the programming for its Net Inclusion 2021 Webinar Series.

The series is slated to take place each Wednesday from April 7 to May 26, with webinars starting each week at 1 p.m. ET. The webinars are all one hour long, with an additional 30-minue wrapup for conversation and questions with panelists and other attendees. Webinars within the series include “The Structural Racism Behind Digital Inequity;” “Coalitions and Digital Equity Planning;” “Partnering with Healthcare Organizations to Increase Digital Equity,” and more.

This year’s webinar series is essentially the online version of the annual Net Inclusion Conference that the NDIA has been running since 2016. 

New Princeton Tech Policy Clinic Connects Researchers, Policymakers

Princeton University has a new tech policy clinic that aims to connect government with the school’s faculty and students, all with the goal of tackling issues at the intersection of technology and community needs.

This clinic — dubbed the Tech Policy Clinic — is an initiative by Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP). The clinic consists of policy roundtables, case study publications, work seminars and summer fellowships. 

The clinic is an initiative of the Center for Information Technology Policy, a joint venture of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Public and International Affairs. Interested parties can learn more about the clinic via an article on Princeton’s website.

Presidential Innovation Fellows to Hold Government Services Roundtable

The Presidential Innovation Fellows are holding a roundtable next week aimed at bolstering government service delivery. 

The roundtable is called “Engineering Better Government Services For All,” and it is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, Friday, March 19. Attendees will learn about the ways that technologists are working to use their specialized skills to help government tackle challenges. In addition, the online event will cover the Presidential Innovation Fellows program itself, giving out information about how it works and how interested parties can get involved.

More information about all of this can be found on the event’s website.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine