The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced March 1 that it is soliciting contributions to structure $2.7 billion in broadband grant programs to “ensure everyone in America has the digital skills and devices , which he needed to realize the full potential of high-speed Internet access.”
The goal of the Digital Equity Act’s $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and $1.25 billion Competitive Digital Equity Program is to advance the adoption and meaningful use of the Internet in underrepresented communities and populations support financially.
The Digital Equity Act’s grant programs — part of NTIA’s Internet For All initiative — are funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocates a historic $65 billion to broadband initiatives.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced a Request for Comment (RFC) on the programs, which went live on March 2.
“President Biden, in signing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, ensured that digital equity was at the heart of expanding high-speed Internet access for all in America,” Raimondo said. “We need to hear directly from those most affected by the systemic barriers that prevent some from taking full advantage of the internet.”
The RFC is part of NTIA’s broader strategy of hearing from a variety of voices while implementing high-speed Internet grant programs, the agency said. NTIA is asking for feedback on the design, rules, and judging criteria for both digital equity programs:
The State Digital Equity Capacity Grant program will fund the implementation of state and territory digital equity plans that identify barriers in communities to full participation in the digital economy and strategies to overcome those barriers. The Competitive Digital Equity Program will fund organizations such as schools, libraries, non-profit organizations and others that provide digital inclusion activities and promote Internet adoption.
NTIA will establish the Competitive Digital Equity Program after it begins awarding funds from the State Capacity Grant Program.
“Connecting homes and businesses with access to affordable, high-speed Internet service is the first step in bringing Internet to everyone. Closing the digital divide also means equipping everyone in America with the devices and digital skills they need to thrive online,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson.
“For years, organizations across the country have been doing this important work in their communities. We seek their expertise to help make our digital equity programs a success,” added Davidson.
As part of the Internet for All initiative, these programs aim to ensure that everyone in America has the skills, technology and capacity to take full advantage of our digital economy, according to NTIA’s press release.
Public comments on NTIA’s 24 questions in the RFC are due May 1st.
In addition to requesting written comment, the agency announced that it would host a series of public virtual listening sessions related to Digital Equity Act programs in the coming months.