Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., introduced the Connecting Minority Communities Act on Aug. 4. The legislation would codify the existing Minority Broadband Initiative at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in a new Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives (MBI).

If enacted, the bill would create a pilot program to provide grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to expand access to broadband and digital opportunity in their communities.

“Closing the digital divide remains a top priority for the Commerce Committee, but too many minority communities remain unconnected,” said Sen. Wicker, who chairs the committee. “The new Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives would focus Federal efforts to address this challenge. Partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions would help further economic development where it is needed most. I look forward to seeing this important measure advance.”

The Connecting Minority Communities Act would:

  • “Codify the Minority Broadband Initiative by establishing the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at NTIA;
  • Task MBI with working with Federal agencies to determine how to expand access to broadband and other digital opportunities in communities surrounding HBCUs/TCUs/HSIs; and work with HBCUs/TCUs/HSIs, state and local governments, the public, and stakeholders to expand broadband access and digital literacy in these communities;
  • Establish a task force comprised of stakeholders from HBCU/TCU/HSI communities, state and local governments, and industry to advise the MBI;
  • Create the Connected Minority Communities Pilot Program, which would provide $100 million in grants to HBCUs, TCUs, and HSIs to purchase broadband service, broadband equipment (wi-fi hot spots, connected devices, routers, and modems), or compensate information technology personnel, to facilitate online learning or to operate a small business or non-profit;
  • Impose accountability measures for the Connected Minority Communities Pilot Program, such as audits and interagency coordination.”

CTIA, a telecom trade group, praised the legislation.

“CTIA commends Senators Wicker and Scott for introducing the Connecting Minority Communities Act,” CTIA said in a statement. “This legislation takes aim at key issues in closing the digital divide and further underscores the need for dedicated funding to support remote learning to help ensure equitable opportunities for all students.”

The legislation does not appear to have a companion bill in the House.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs