Tribes are using digital equity funds to do amazing work toward closing the digital divide. Mohawk Networks has signed up over 450 people in the community for a monthly $75 discount on their internet bill through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Digital Connect, out of the Gila River Indian Community, hosts biweekly tech classes for their elder centers to show them how to use their devices and more. Cayuse Native Solutions’ digital navigator program, which serves the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, knows that most folks rely on their phones, so they distribute laptops to meet the needs that phones cannot. Tribes know the importance of this work (though they may call it by other names!) and are actively implementing programs to amplify access to many areas of the community, enhancing opportunities for education, workforce development, healthcare, and staying connected with loved ones.
Every time we talk to Tribes about digital equity, they have great ideas about how to incorporate digital inclusion in their communities, but they always ask the same question – “Where’s the money for that?” To prepare Tribes for upcoming funding, here’s an overview of existing and forthcoming funding that can help Tribes fund similar programs in their community. Remember, there are funds to create digital equity plans as well as funds to implement digital equity programs.
State Digital Equity Planning Grants
Planning at the state level is in full swing, thanks to the State Digital Equity Planning Grant under the Digital Equity Act (DEA). Planning can include collecting input from the community, gathering connectivity data, setting goals, defining priorities, ensuring community partners are included, etc. The planning step is essential in ensuring digital inclusion projects are long term and not just subject to the life of a grant.
States should be including Tribes as community partners. Tribes can utilize planning to ensure projects carry on within future Tribal leadership initiatives. The resulting state plans will determine how states use the forthcoming Digital Equity Capacity Building Grants, so it is critical that Tribes’ voices are represented. Tribes can comment on their state’s DEA plans now and as they are released. Connect with your state broadband staff to stay informed.
NDIA encourages Tribes to create digital equity plans. Despite a lack of dedicated funds for Tribal digital equity plans, multiple federal grant programs will include Tribal digital equity planning as an allowable use of funds.
Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program
Tribes can now apply for Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program round 2. Of the $980 million, up to $100 million will be awarded for digital equity planning and programs, with the rest going towards broadband infrastructure. Awards will range from $100,000 to $2,500,000. Proposals are due January 23, 2024. NTIA provides a robust list of eligible uses for these funds that can support a Tribe’s digital inclusion efforts. The NTIA Tribal Broadband Connectivity Team can help Tribes navigate this process and answer questions.
Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program
Tribal entities are eligible for subgrants from the states under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) for broadband infrastructure and digital equity projects. Tribes can comment on their state’s BEAD proposals now and as they are released.
There is no guarantee that states will award funds to Tribes as subgrantees, but engaging with state broadband offices through meaningful engagement and consultation is a critical step.
Tribal Digital Equity Planning and Capacity Building Grants
Tribes will also be eligible to apply to NTIA for the Tribal set-aside in the Digital Equity Capacity Building Grants, which NDIA expects to total between $53-$68 million. We expect the first of three Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs) from NTIA in fall 2024.
State Equity Capacity Building Grants
Tribes are eligible to apply for subgrants from states under the State Digital Equity Capacity Grants. We expect the first states to open their grant process at the end of 2024 or early 2025. Amounts and timelines will vary by state.
Digital Equity Competitive Grants
Tribes are eligible to apply to NTIA for the $1.25 billion Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. NDIA expects the Tribal set-aside for this program to be approximately $50-$60 million, but Tribes may also apply for non-Tribal portion of the program, particularly with external partners. We expect a NOFO from NTIA mid-year 2024.
Stay in the Loop
This is an exciting time for Tribes to get ahead of the funding, plan what digital equity looks like for their communities and be ready to launch much-needed programs. Digital equity is essential to Tribes creating and sustaining thriving communities. Stay informed as these programs evolve and connect to other Tribes doing the work by joining NDIA’s Indigenous Digital Inclusion Working Group. Email Davida ([email protected]) or Abi ([email protected]) to find out more.