Press Release

House of Representatives Passes Bill With Significant Funding for Tech Policy

November 19, 2021
newspaper

Today, the United States House of Representatives voted 220-213 to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better Act. The bill now goes to the Senate for approval.

Public Knowledge commends Congress and the Biden administration for working to further advance efforts to close the digital divide and address a range of needs in the telecommunications and technology space.

The bill includes funding for low-income consumers to obtain a computer or tablet; funding for the Federal Communications Commission to conduct outreach about its subsidy programs; a Privacy Bureau at the Federal Trade Commission; and a payroll tax credit for local news organizations to retain and hire local journalists.

The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, President and CEO of Public Knowledge:

“The Build Back Better Act works to close the digital divide in many ways that move beyond the core infrastructure needs covered in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package signed earlier this week. Its passage is a recognition that investments in wires and spectrum alone do not solve challenges in our modern communications and media systems. To fully address these challenges we need smart policies to deal with equity, consumer protection, and promoting key public interest values like preserving quality, independent journalism.

“The Connected Device Distribution program is a crucial piece in closing the digital divide. No matter how much we invest in deployment and affordability, consumers cannot connect without computers and tablets to meet all the needs of today’s consumers. We know that a student can’t write a quality research paper on a mobile device, nor can a job applicant craft a quality resume using a handheld phone. This is one of the first federal programs addressing this need. Moreover, many consumers are unaware of the programs that exist to help them connect, and will benefit from help enrolling.

“The creation of a Privacy Bureau at the FTC is an important step towards protecting consumer data and preventing unfair and deceptive practices. The FTC has served as the primary consumer protection agency around privacy, but for years we’ve heard about its limited resources to address the growing threats from the booming technology sector. Public Knowledge wrote a letter with 26 other civil rights and consumer protection organizations highlighting the need for more robust resources at the FTC and how people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by identity theft, fraud, scams, and exploitation that the FTC fights. This funding is no substitute for Congress passing a comprehensive privacy bill, but it will strengthen our primary enforcer to protect technology users.

“The payroll tax credit for local news organizations, based on the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, is a simple, content-neutral, nonpartisan, First Amendment-friendly way to save local news and meet the civic information needs of communities. News organizations that cover local communities and have at least one full-time local journalist qualify for the benefit. Research consistently shows that communities that lose local news have more corruption, more misinformation, more waste, and more polarization.

“The Senate should work quickly to pass this bill in its current form and send it to the President’s desk for his signature before the end of the year.”