Biden-Harris administration requests input on upcoming digital equity programs
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said today it is seeking input on how to structure nearly $2.7 billion in 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—each a part of NTIA’s Internet for All initiative—is to promote adoption and meaningful use of the Internet among underrepresented communities and populations, including low-income households, veterans, aging individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents and others.
The Digital Equity Act grant programs are funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced a Request for Comment on the programs at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Net Inclusion event.
“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,” said Secretary Raimondo. “We need to hear directly from those who are most impacted by the systemic barriers that prevent some from fully utilizing the Internet.”
“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 Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator. “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.”
This request for comment is part of NTIA’s larger strategy to hear from a diverse set of voices while implementing high-speed Internet grant programs. 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.
“Digital inclusion” refers to activities that ensure access to and use of affordable Internet service, including providing devices, applications and content that enables self-sufficiency online, digital literacy training, technical support and learning basic awareness of how to ensure online privacy and cybersecurity.
“For families across the country, a reliable internet connection is critical to be able to get an education, apply for jobs, and so much more. And as we connect more and more families to high-speed internet, we also have to make sure people have the tools and skills they need to make full use of their connection, and that’s why I wrote the Digital Equity Act—to empower local communities with resources to close the digital divide, particularly in rural and underserved communities across the country,” said Senator Murray (D-WA) . “For this funding to make the biggest possible difference, it’s important to hear from a diverse range of voices on how best to implement these grant programs. Opening up the request for comments is an exciting next step, and I encourage people across Washington state and the country to share their ideas on how these programs can do the most good.”
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.
The request for comment will be available on regulations.gov. Comments are due 60 days from publication in the Federal Register.
In addition to requesting written comment, NTIA will host a series of public virtual listening sessions in connection with the Digital Equity Act programs in the coming months.
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