The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said on March 1 that it is seeking input on how to structure $2.7 billion in broadband grant programs to “ensure everyone in America has the digital skills and devices they need 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 the $1.25 billion Competitive Digital Equity Program is to promote adoption and meaningful use of the internet among underrepresented communities and populations.
The Digital Equity Act grant programs – part of NTIA’s Internet For All initiative – are funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides a historic $65 billion for broadband initiatives.
Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced a request for comment (RFC) on the programs, which went live on March 2.
“President Biden ensured that digital equity was at the center of expanding high-speed internet access to everyone in America when he signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Raimondo said. “We need to hear directly from those who are most impacted by the systemic barriers that prevent some from fully utilizing the internet.”
The RFC is part of NTIA’s larger strategy to hear from a diverse set of voices while implementing high-speed internet grant programs, the agency said. NTIA requests feedback on the design, rules, and evaluation criteria for both digital equity programs:
- The State Digital Equity Capacity Grant program will fund implementation of state and territories’ digital equity plans, which will identify barriers in communities to achieving full participation in the digital economy, and strategies to overcome those barriers.
- The Competitive Digital Equity Program will fund organizations including schools, libraries, nonprofits, and others offering digital inclusion activities and promoting 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 delivering Internet for All. Closing the digital divide means also 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 around the country have been doing this important work in their communities. We seek their expertise to make our Digital Equity programs a success,” Davidson added.
As part of the Internet for All initiative, these programs aim to ensure that everyone in America has the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy, NTIA’s press release said.
Public comments to NTIA’s 24 questions in the RFC are due on May 1.
In addition to requesting written comment, the agency said it will host a series of public virtual listening sessions in connection with the Digital Equity Act programs in the coming months.