Portman Sponsored Digital Equity Act of 2021, Slipped Into Infrastructure Bill

Rob Portman


Outgoing Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), reached across the aisle to cosponsor the Digital Equity Act of 2021, which was later passed and slipped into the more than 2700 page, $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill agreed upon by the U.S. Senate last week.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), announced the introduction of the bill on her website on June 1:

Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), and Senator Angus King (I-ME) introduced new bipartisan legislation aimed at closing the growing digital divide in communities across the country. The Digital Equity Act of 2021 would create new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”— a concept defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as the, “condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.”

“Too many Americans – especially in overlooked and underserved communities – lack access to broadband internet, negatively impacting the way they live and work,” Portman said at the time. “This bill aims to address these access gaps by encouraging the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico and supporting digital inclusion projects undertaken by groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest. With this support, we can further our efforts to bridge the digital divide.”

Star News Education Foundation Journalism ProjectThe bill was then quietly slipped into the high-profile infrastructure bill that appears set to be signed into law. It will be the first major legislative victory for President Joe Biden.

The concept of “digital equity” was inspired by a left-wing group located in Columbus, Ohio called the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), which describes itself as “a community of digital inclusion practitioners and advocates.”

The NDIA was born out of the Partnering Anthropology with Science and Technology (PAST) Foundation, another Ohio group, in 2o15. PAST is a multi-million dollar outfit that has often been funded by U.S. Department of Education grants, according to its own website.

The bill itself added more than $1.2 billion to the infrastructure deal, and was tucked away more than 2100 pages into the monstrosity.

The bill mandates that at least five percent of the funds are granted to “Indian Tribes, Alaska Native entities, and Native Hawaiian organizations to allow those tribes, entities, and organizations to carry out the activities described in this section” and at least one percent of the funds are used “to award grants to, or enter into contracts or cooperative agreements with, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and any other territory or possession of the United States that is not a State to enable those entities to carry out the activities described in this section.”

According to the bill, $60 million will be made available for such grants to bring expanded digital access to those communities during this fiscal year. In fiscal year 2022, that number increases to $240 million. In fiscal years 2023 to 2026, the bill mandates that $300 million in grants are made available to those communities each year.

The official name of the grant program is the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, and will be administered via the Department of Commerce. The program will be overseen by the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a contributor at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].

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