Neighbors helping neighbors is a necessity in rural America. Simply, there are not enough resources (e.g., the necessity of volunteer fire departments), and it requires a robust community to survive. That’s been one of the lessons from Viodi’s visits to the broadband providers who serve areas where others wouldn’t.
Speaking at the ACA Connects Summit, Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) echoes that observation. He reflects on his rural roots and how neighbors must put differences aside and work together to solve common problems. As a fourth generation living on the same rural farm as his grandparents, Luján is familiar with mending literal and metaphorical fences.
He suggests that finding common ground is the key to success in Washington D.C. as well. It is clear that he shares common ground with his fellow rural Senate and Congressional colleagues as he provides a couple of examples of others who grew up farming and ranching.
Understanding the challenges of living in rural America informs him about the importance of broadband. In his fireside chat with ACA Connects’ President and CEO, Grant Spellmeyer, he pointed out how helpful automated irrigation would be on his farm, as an example of a broadband IoT use-case.
A Foundation to Help Close the Digital Divide
Although not announced or discussed in the above interview, along with U.S. Representative Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Luján reintroduced the Digital Equity Foundation Act of 2023. This legislation (PDF) would establish a non-profit to assist the goals of the FCC and NTIA “in closing the divide on digital equity, digital inclusion, and digital literacy.”
The associated press release from Senator Luján’s office suggests this legislation has precedent as Congress has established other non-profit foundations for government agencies such as the National Institutions of Health (NIH), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Park Service (NPS).
Briefly, it would
- Supplement, but not supplant the work of the FCC and NTIA in their efforts to promote the benefits of broadband.
- Promote digital literacy, digital inclusion, and digital equity for communities with low rates of adoption.
- Develop programs and partnerships (e.g., government, tribal, and private) that promote broadband and all of its benefits.
- Promote digital equity “by preventing, detecting, and remedying digital discrimination.”
A volunteer board would steer the direction of the organization. The board would be comprised of individuals with diverse geographic, community, and sector backgrounds, including “not less than 1 member who is affiliated with, or has experience working with “private sector internet service providers.” Appropriations would include start-up costs for 2023 and then administrative and operational costs for 2024 and 2025.
From a sustainability standpoint, the Foundation would be able to establish for-profit subsidiaries, including an impact investment fund. It also allows for private partners and one can imagine other revenue sources (e.g., conferences).
Given the bipartisan support for broadband, it will be interesting to see if Senator Luján can find the common ground necessary to move this legislation forward.