Sec. Raimondo, Sen. Luján, and US Treasury Make Big Announcements at Net Inclusion
Y’all. What a whirlwind week we had in San Antonio at our 6th Net Inclusion conference! We can’t get over how amazing it was to see 800 of you in the same room at the same time, and we’re still buzzing from our community’s energy.
In addition to the great panels, breakouts, and lovely conversations over tacos and margaritas, we heard breaking digital equity policy updates from three federal policymakers. Not only did these government and elected officials make announcements on the Net Inclusion stage, but they also got to see all of you and feel the growing momentum for digital equity in the room. That’s a big deal for our movement and a feeling we hope will stick with them.
Here’s what you should know about the policy announcements:
1. The Department of Commerce wants your input on how to spend billions in digital equity grants.
For the first time in Net Inclusion history, a cabinet secretary joined us and made a big announcement with important next steps. US Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo joined Angela Siefer, NDIA executive director, for a fireside chat (play the video for the full segment) to talk about how her agency is implementing the broadband and digital equity aspects of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and to announce the next public Request for Comments (RFC) for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program (part of the Digital Equity Act).
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA), under the Department of Commerce, manages the $2.75 billion for Digital Equity Act programs. NTIA will host listening sessions and has also offered to virtually join listening sessions you host on what you want to see in the forthcoming grants. So if you’re part of a local digital inclusion coalition or engage regularly with digital inclusion partners and lived experts in your community, we encourage you to host a listening session and invite NTIA to join you – email [email protected] to make a request.
NDIA will submit comments, and we encourage our affiliates to do so as well. Your stories, experiences, and expertise in working with your communities are so valuable and can provide NTIA with vital information that will ensure these programs are structured to support your work and the people you serve. The more of those stories they hear, the better the programs will be.
Comments are due by May 1, 2023, 5 p.m. EST. Check out NTIA’s tips for comments and submit your comments here. We’ll also host a webinar later this month (date and time TBD) with more guidance on interpreting the language in the RFC and strategies for responding to questions. For now, we encourage you to think about what you want federal policymakers to know about the reality of digital inequities in your community.
2. The Digital Equity Foundation Act was reintroduced in Congress.
Senator Ben Ray Luján (NM) announced the re-introduction of a bill to create the Digital Equity Foundation through a recorded video at Net Inclusion. Luján and a bevy of colleagues co-sponsored the bill, including US Representative Doris Matsui (CA) and US Senators Dianne Feinstein (CA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Richard Blumenthal (CN), Martin Heinrich (NM), Ed Markey (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR), and Dick Durbin (IL). The Digital Equity Act Foundation was first introduced last year. If it passes, the act would establish a nonprofit foundation that would channel public and private investments to supplement IIJA investments and provide an ongoing source of digital equity funding.
3. The US Treasury Department announced $15 million to Kansas for digital inclusion (with more to come for 20 states and DC).
Joey Wender, director of the Capital Projects Fund (CPF) of the US Department of the Treasury, announced the first digital equity award from CPF: $15 million for the state of Kansas. He also shared, at Net Inclusion, that millions more will be awarded to 20 states and the District of Columbia. Zack Quaintance, associate editor of Government Technology Magazine, was at Net Inclusion and covered the announcement.
Wender also highlighted that the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is essential to the CPF success. He called it “the lynchpin” of all IIJA and broadband deployment programs, explaining that the Biden-Harris administration believes that any federally-funded broadband network ought to be affordable to everyone. To date, Treasury has deployed roughly half its $10 billion fund to states, territories, freely associated states, and Tribal governments, reaching an estimated 1.4 million locations (households/businesses/etc.) with broadband.
Read more about the Capital Projects Fund and our analysis here.