Federal Broadband Funding: Progress and Next Steps

Federal Broadband Funding: Progress and Next Steps

Posted on July 09, 2023 by Karen Stewart, Digital Access for All Engagement Team

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) was passed in November 2021, which includes historic funding to rebuild America's infrastructure, including $65 billion, to help ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet through investments in broadband deployment. Here is a summary of the major programs funded by the Act and its progress, how the funding is being distributed, and the timeline for implementation.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program provides $42.5 billion to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and other American locations. BEAD is a block grant program to states for broadband infrastructure deployment and other digital inclusion activities administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). States can use BEAD funds to deploy affordable networks in low-income, multi-family buildings and to promote broadband adoption. Each state is required to submit a BEAD five-year action plan in 2023. The remaining BEAD timeline to remember is:

2023
Planning funds
Five-year plan
Initial proposal

2024
20% of allocation
Final proposals
80% of allocation

2026+
Four-year implementation

The Digital Equity Act (DEA) provides $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital equity and inclusion. They aim to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of the digital economy. The Act is administered by NTIA, which provides funds to states. The grant programs are:
  • The $60 million State Digital Equity Planning Grant supports the creation of community-centric solutions. It provides resources to community organizations to help scale digital literacy programs. These programs give people the skills they need to use the Internet effectively. The NTIA seeks projects promoting meaningful adoption and high-speed Internet service use. Projects should aim to help the following groups:
    • Low-income households
    • Aging populations
    • Incarcerated individuals
    • Veterans
    • People with disabilities
    • People with language barriers
    • Racial and ethnic minorities
    • Rural inhabitants
  • Projects will be used to share best practices and show successful models of state-community partnerships.

The Digital Equity Capacity Building Grant is a $1.44 billion formula grant program for states, territories, and tribal governments. Each state received a $5 million planning grant in 2022 and is required to submit state digital equity plans to NTIA in 2023. States that have released their draft digital equity plans and opened their public comment period are listed here. This grant's notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) is expected in the spring of 2024.

The Digital Equity Competitive Grant is a $1.25 billion grant program. It will fund annual programs for five years to implement digital equity projects. The NOFO for competitive grants is expected in the Fall of 2024.

There are important considerations for states, communities, local planning groups, and broadband partners to strengthen readiness for the Competitive Grant Program. During the recent NDIA subscriber call, affiliates were encouraged to participate and engage in planning and the public comment process to help shape goals and become familiar with your state plan goals and strategies. Organizations must get ready by assessing internal capacity and determining needs for program expansion, grant applications, and required administrative and financial oversight. Moreover, partnership opportunities must be explored to promote innovative frameworks and strategies to support the plan and work to develop a collective impact approach to digital inclusion strategies. Finally, action must be taken to explore currently available funding opportunities, implement pilot programs, measure impact, and evaluate strategies.

Florida has been allocated $1.169 billion for the BEAD program. The Florida Office of Broadband is conducting public meetings and webinars to hear directly from Floridians about barriers to accessing broadband Internet service. The meetings and webinars aim to ensure all Florida communities can easily access Internet service, online devices, and digital skills training. In addition, the sessions will help inform Florida's Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Five-Year Action Plan and Digital Adoption and Use Plan. A workshop was held in Manatee County on June 28, 2023. The remaining workshop schedule can be found here.

DA4A team members attended the Collier County meeting on July 10, 2023, to listen and represent the Charlotte, Desoto, Manatee, and Sarasota region to strengthen individuals, organizations, and communities while striving to enhance digital equity, a driver of economic competitiveness.


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