The release of the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) on March 29th triggered the countdown for the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) mandates releasing the Competitive Grant NOFO within 30 days of the first Capacity award, so we expect it by late summer/early fall 2024 (as the timeline shows).

Digital Equity Act Timeline

We will not know all the specifics until the NOFO is released. But, there are some details in the law (the Digital Equity Act) we can look to. 

Program Overview

The Competitive Grant Program is one of three programs created by the Digital Equity Act. The Digital Equity Act is a $2.75 billion initiative aimed at bridging the digital divide. It does this through the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, and the Competitive Program. 

Program Goal

The Digital Equity Competitive Grant program’s goal is, “To support efforts to achieve digital equity, promote digital inclusion activities, and spur greater adoption of broadband among covered populations.” 

While this goal is vague, you can use your state’s digital equity plan as a potential guidepost. All 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico recently had their digital equity plans approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and will be available soon. Competitive grants will not necessarily be limited to projects that assist in the implementation of these plans, however, understanding the state’s plan, where your project aligns, and how your project complements or supports the state plan may enhance your application.

Funding Amounts

Congress allocated $1.25 billion for the Competitive Grant Program. However, from that amount, there are set-asides for certain uses. These set-asides include:

  •  5 percent for NTIA to run the program,
  •  5 percent for Tribal entities, 
  • And 1 percent for territories

Thus at a minimum, $1.1125 billion will be available for awards. Awarded funds will be used over a 5-year grant period. The grant period will consist of 4 years of program development and delivery, followed by a one-year evaluation period.

Eligible Uses

The IIJA lists the following as eligible uses of funds:

  • Digital inclusion activities that benefit covered populations 
  • Activities that encourage broadband adoption for covered populations such as education pieces or increasing employment opportunities
  • Digital equity training programs, any other type of digital inclusion workforce development programs
  • All technology and equipment requirements for delivering broadband service to covered populations at low or no cost
  • To create new or continue operating existing public access computing centers for covered populations through community anchor institutions
  • Any other project or activity approved by the Assistant Secretary 

Funding Caps

  • No more than 10 percent of the awarded funds may be used for program evaluation
  • No more than 10 percent of the awarded funds may be used for administrative costs

Eligible Entities

Eligible entities for the Competitive Program are the same as those for the possible Capacity Program sub-awards. These entities include:

  • Political subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities of the State including public housing
  • Indian Tribes, Alaska Native entities, Native Hawaiian entities
  • Foundations, corporations, institutions, and associations that are not for profit and also not schools
  • Community anchor institutions
  • Local education agencies
  • Workforce development programs
  • and Partnerships between any of the above entities and an entity deemed to be within the public interest by the Assistant Secretary that is not a school

Application Requirements

While the forthcoming Competitive Grant Program NOFO will contain in-depth application requirements, the IIJA enumerates some specific requirements. They are: 

  • Any requirements as stated in the NOFO, 
  • A detailed explanation of the submitted project,
  • The period in which you plan to expend the grant funds if awarded,
  • A detailed budget and funding request justification,
  • Applications must demonstrate that the applicants can perform all grant administration duties,
  • Applicants will be required to disclose all sources of Federal, State, and local funding being used for the projects, and political and state entities will be required to use any non-federal sources as match. 
  • Finally, all applicants must provide the standard federal grant assurances and deliver any other reports necessary for the Assistant Secretary to perform their functions under the program.

Some of these requirements will be fulfilled by filling out your required SF-424 forms. These are standard forms used across all federal grant programs. While NTIA may designate specific SF-424 forms needed for the application, the Application for Federal Assistance form is standard for all programs. We recommend you fill as much of this form out now, that way you can focus on program-specific requirements later.   

Match Requirement

The final requirement will be at least a 10 percent match. We don’t yet know whether the match will be cash, or ‘in-kind’ (ie. your team’s time/what you’re contributing to the project) and will not know until the NOFO is released. We advocated that NTIA limit the match to 10 percent and allow for in-kind matches. The law does provide a safety net–an organization can apply for a match waiver if they can demonstrate they cannot meet the required match. We would not recommend relying on this option, however, as it is unlikely to be approved often. 


Let’s recap the tips discussed above:

  • While your project is not required to align with your state’s digital equity plan, understanding the state’s plans, where your project aligns, and how your project complements or supports the state plan will enhance your application.
  • Fill out as much of the SF-424 forms as possible now. This way you can focus on program-specific requirements when the NOFO is released.
  • Read our blog on preparing for federal grants 
  • Watch our webinar on Digital Inclusion Grant Strategies: Collaborative Partnerships

We’ll share more information about the Competitive Grant Program NOFO when we have it.