Michigan, home of great innovators like Henry Ford, Anna and Melville Bissell, and Elijah McCoy is once again leading the country with its innovation. This time, however, the innovation isn’t new technology—but a funding strategy that would catalyze new technologies, and ensure access to jobs, healthcare, education, and government services are available and accessible in perpetuity. Their innovative strategy—leveraging Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) non-deployment funds to establish a Michigan Digital Inclusion Fund is designed to sustain digital inclusion work throughout the state beyond the short-term federal investments.

Since the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed in 2021, our digital equity field has been thinking, planning, and working to execute and implement innovative and impactful programs. In tandem, NDIA has been laser-focused on leveraging this moment to catalyze robust digital inclusion ecosystems and policies necessary to continuously address future digital divides and ensure sustainability for the digital inclusion field. 

Sustainability won’t come from just one source, funder, or policy though. Instead, digital equity funding and support should be interwoven into many sectors, strategies, programs, and policies. It also will take leadership and sustained investment from all levels of government—local, state, and federal. In a previous blog post (and in her keynote speech at Net Inclusion), our Executive Director, Angela Siefer, outlined the need for sustainability and strategies for ensuring we get there. We also outlined specific sustainability strategies states can employ when implementing the Digital Equity Act (DEA) and Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) programs in our State Digital Equity Implementation Manual.  

As the BEAD Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) stressed the importance of aligning the BEAD and State Digital Equity Capacity Grant program saying, “Eligible Entities should view this NOFO and the State Digital Equity Planning Grant NOFO holistically as complementary efforts aimed at a singular, unified objective of closing the digital divide.” To that end, NDIA’s consistent guidance to states has been to align the BEAD and DEA programs and consider allocating any non-deployment funds (funds leftover after all the unserved, underserved, and community anchor institutions are served) to complement and support the implementation of the states’ DEA plans. NDIA also suggested states consider establishing a permanent statewide digital equity fund to continue investing in local digital inclusion programs and solutions that work long into the future.

A few states named such a strategy in their Digital Equity plans, but only one (that we know of) did so in their BEAD plan—Michigan. In their BEAD Volume II draft plan, the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) proposes using the majority of their non-deployment funds to establish a “Michigan Digital Inclusion Fund” so that “digital equity can be pursued, achieved, and maintained.” In other words—so Michigan’s digital equity efforts have a powerful tool for sustainability

The non-deployment funds would help launch the fund, and the MIHI team would work to direct state and philanthropic dollars toward the fund to increase its impact. MIHI would run a competitive selection process (adhering to all the BEAD subgrantee regulations of course) to select a fund manager to administer the fund and issue grants to expand and sustain digital inclusion work across the state. The fund manager would work collaboratively with MIHI to carefully align all the Michigan Digital Inclusion Fund’s grants and efforts with the State Digital Equity Plan and the MIHI office’s digital inclusion initiatives. In particular, the fund would leverage the digital navigator network MIHI will establish with its State Digital Equity Capacity Grant, providing a feedback loop for the digital navigators and digital inclusion practitioners to continue identifying their community’s needs. While innovative, leveraging federal funds to establish a state-led endowment fund isn’t unprecedented in Michigan. MIHI will model the endowment fund after similar successful initiatives within Michigan like the Children’s Trust Fund (established in 1982). 

NDIA applauds the MIHI office for so elegantly aligning and layering their BEAD and DEA funds, thoughtfully designing sustainability strategies to increase impact and effectiveness from the outset, and prioritizing digital equity. We encourage all states, local governments, and the federal government to follow Michigan’s lead and embed sustainability into your digital equity programs and plans.