The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, provides $65 billion in funding from the federal government to expand broadband access and promote digital inclusion across the United States. To do this, the IIJA established two programs: the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program (BEAD), which will fund the construction of broadband infrastructure in areas that lack access to high speed internet, and the Digital Equity Act (DEA), which will fund affordability initiatives, digital skills training, technical support, and other programming targeted at underserved communities in the digital divide.
Before states can begin to make use of the funding made available through these programs, they are required to design a strategy and a process for how they will use the money to support the state’s connectivity and digital equity goals. Specifically, each state has been charged with writing the following:
- BEAD Initial Proposal – Describes how the state will use BEAD funding to ensure that every resident has access to high-speed broadband. The proposal must identify each unserved and underserved location in the state, detail how the state will administer a competitive grant program to award funds for proposed broadband expansion projects, and describe the process for challenging grant applications on the basis of existing service quality. A full list of the information states must cover in their initial proposal can be found on page 30 of the BEAD Notice of Funding Opportunity.
- State Digital Equity Plan – Describes the state’s strategy for promoting digital equity through strategic investments in human and community capacity. The plan must identify the barriers to digital equity faced by underserved populations in the state, articulate measurable objectives for promoting digital inclusion, and describe an implementation strategy for achieving those goals. A full list of the information states must cover in their digital equity plan can be found on page 20 of the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Notice of Funding Opportunity.
States are required to make each of these plans available for public comment before embarking on the work they describe. This public comments process will be an important opportunity for community organizations to provide feedback to the states to ensure their strategies align with community needs.
When will the plans be released?
BEAD Initial Proposal
- Kansas closed its public comment period for Volume 1 of its BEAD Initial Proposal on September 5th. Volume 2 will be released sometime in October, and will be open for comment for 30 days.
- Missouri will release Volume 1 of its BEAD Initial Proposal in October, and will allow 30 days for public comment. The release date for Volume 2 has not yet been announced.
State Digital Equity Plan
- Kansas will release its Digital Equity Strategic Plan here on October 2nd. The public will be allowed to submit comments through November 2nd.
- Missouri will release its Digital Equity Strategic Plan on October 9th, and will allow 30 days for public comment.
What should I give feedback on?
When the state broadband offices release their digital equity plans, they will provide a set of questions for community organizations to respond to through the comments process. The best way for an organization to provide feedback is to take the questions that feel the most important and most relevant to that organization’s work, review the relevant sections of the plan, and then provide targeted feedback to the broadband offices on those areas. In addition to these preset questions, organizations will also be invited to provide open comments on any other matters not covered by those prompts. Some areas which may be of particular interest to consider include:
- Are there any key resources or organizations not identified by the states during their asset inventory exercise?
- To the extent your organization intends to apply for funding through any of the grant programs described in the initial proposal or digital equity plan, do the requirements and process described for those grant programs seem appropriate? Or are there any obstacles you think you or other key organizations might face in complying with those requirements?
- To the extent that the plans articulate a grading system for grant applications, do these systems seem to appropriately weight the factors most important to your community?
- Do the goals and objectives laid out in the plans seem reasonable and appropriate?
- Are there improvements the state could make to its plans for how to collect data and measure progress towards digital equity goals?
How can I learn more and keep up to date with news about the BEAD and DEA programs?
KC Digital Drive recently hosted the NTIA program officers and state broadband digital equity specialists from both Kansas and Missouri to give a presentation on the public comments process. You can view that video below for more information about what will be included in the states’ upcoming plans, and how you can provide feedback.
Organizations can also take advantage of the resources and contacts below if they have questions or would like to learn more about the state plans and public comments process:
National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
- Internet For All – the website of the NTIA where the federal government posts updates about their broadband and digital equity initiatives
Amy VanDeVelde – NTIA Federal Program Officer for Missouri (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Melinda Stanley – NTIA Federal Program Officer for Kansas (email@example.com)
- Sign up for the NTIA’s newsletter
- Kansas Office of Broadband Development website
- Kimberlyn Jones – Digital Equity Program Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Kansas’ 5-Year BEAD Action Plan
- October 3rd webinar on the public comment process for the state Digital Equity Strategic Plan
- October 12th webinar on the BEAD challenge process