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Digging Into Digital Equity Funding

While most broadband providers are focused on the $42.45 billion BEAD program for infrastructure deployment, there’s also $2.75 billion available for digital equity efforts. Within that funding are three different programs available to states to foster and further their efforts to close the digital divide. 

“Under the Digital Equity Act, we have three programs,” said Angela Thi Bennett, Esq., Digital Equity Program Director, U.S. Department of Commerce, NTIA, during the latest Fiber for Breakfast episode. “The first is the State Planning Grant Program, a $60 million formula-based program that goes directly to the states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, territories, and tribal communities to develop digital equity plans. We anticipate all states will complete their plans and submit them to us in early 2024.” 

Funding to implement those plans will come from the $1.44 billion State Capacity Grant Program, with the $1.25 billion Competitive Grant Program, the third program, open to local municipalities, non-profit organizations, community anchor institutions, and other organizations that serve covered populations under the act.  

“Covered populations,” defined in the Digital Equity Act are groups and communities disproportionally impacted by digital inequity, including low-income households, aging populations, incarcerated individuals, veterans, peoples with disabilities, people with language barriers, racial and ethnic minorities, and rural inhabitants. 

“It’s so important to take a holistic view and not silo the individuals that we’re working with,” said Bennett.   

The State Capacity program is expected to start in 2024 with awards executed over a five-year period. The Competitive Program will launch within one month of the first Capacity awards, with funding rolling out over a four-year period, according to the slides Bennett presented.  

NTIA is looking for a “Whole of Nation” approach, Bennett said. “It’s not just the federal government, and it’s not just the states,” she said. “We need to make sure that the telecom providers are at the table, our tribal communities, our community anchor institutions, our local governments, our community organizations, and most importantly, people are at the center of the work that we do. Those that are closest to the problems are closest to the solutions. It’s so critical that those individuals that are impacted by the digital divide are at the planning table so their voices can be heard and have influence on the plans as they’re being developed.” 

To learn more about the NTIA Digital Equity Act programs and the opportunities available, listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast.