Today, Democratic members of the Energy and Commerce Committee introduced five bills to ensure Americans have access to the resources they need to compete and thrive in the 21st century economy. New technologies have produced significant benefits for consumers, but these same technologies can also cause disruption to people's jobs. The Democratic bills introduced today tap into the power of broadband to help Americans find new opportunities and stay ahead of the technological wave.
The 21st Century Worker Opportunity Act, introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), would provide a credit for workers displaced by automation to get broadband access for job re-training and for distance learning.
"As advanced technologies and the rise of automation promise to remake our economy, we must ensure that we are looking two steps ahead to ensure that no worker is left behind," said Dingell. "The 21st Century Worker Opportunity Act will help ensure that Americans have access to distance learning and online education to get the skills they need to get ahead. American workers are the best in the world, and this bill will help ensure that our workers have the tools they need to continue to be successful in this changing world."
The Innovation Corps Act of 2017, introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), would provide grants to job retraining programs for workers displaced by automation and would allow recent college grads that volunteer with job retraining programs to have a portion of their student loans forgiven.
"Every citizen deserves to participate in the emerging innovation economy," said Matsui. "Modeled on the successful AmeriCorps program, my bill will provide opportunities for the next generation to serve, while giving workers the skills they need to compete for the jobs of tomorrow and share in the economic benefits of new technology."
The Wi-Fi Capable Mobile Devices Act, introduced by Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), addresses the Homework Gap by allowing low-income students to use their parents' lifeline internet connection to do their homework, using a technique called "tethering."
"Seven out of ten teachers give students homework that requires internet access. But one-third of students from low-income and rural households can't access the internet from home and struggle to complete work on time. This "homework gap' is a huge problem for students in Vermont and across America. This legislation is crucial to support expanded Internet access for students," said Welch.
The Rural Wireless Act, introduced by Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA), requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use more reliable and accurate mobile coverage data when making decisions about where to spend money to increase deployment.
"It is clear to anyone who lives in Iowa, or has traveled across the state, that wireless coverage can be lacking. As I drive through the 24 counties in my district, I often have calls dropped or cannot get a strong signal. Unfortunately, the data that the FCC uses to improve coverage doesn't tell the same story," said Loebsack. "We can't invest in wireless access without accurately understanding the problem. This legislation would make sure that the FCC is using the best data to improve wireless coverage throughout rural America. Not only does building out wireless access create jobs, but it is necessary for our rural communities to thrive and be competitive in the 21st Century."
The Tribal Digital Access Act, introduced by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), would add "Indian Country" to the list of areas that should get federal money for broadband access.
"I'm honored to introduce the Tribal Digital Access Act to help close the digital divide in Indian Country," said Ruiz. "Far too many tribes don't have access to essential communications services. My commonsense bill helps bridge the gap in Indian Country by making deployment of broadband and telecommunications services on tribal lands a core principle for the Federal Communications Commission's Universal Service Programs. Tribes deserve equal access to communications that will help students learn, increase educational achievement, and stimulate economic development."
Full Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) wrote in a January opinion piece that it is time for Washington to rethink tech policy by focusing on improving security, increasing opportunities, and providing more access for Americans. Earlier this month, Democratic Committee members introduced three bills that would improve cybersecurity for consumer devices.
"Broadband offers more opportunities for more people--whether it's getting a better education, applying for new jobs, or training for a new career," said Pallone.
"Expanding broadband to places without access attracts new businesses and new opportunities. At a time when so many Americans are feeling uncertainty in their lives, we have a responsibility to help. These bills from Democratic members of our committee will provide a better chance for those who need it most."