Digital Equity Now: A Call to Action for Adult Education Leadership

June 2nd, 2022 | Blogs

Following the exciting news about the Affordable Connectivity Program from the Biden-Harris Administration, on May 13, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for three programs meant to advance digital equity and high-speed internet access for all Americans: Digital Equity Act (DEA), Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD), and Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure. Collectively, these programs are part of the Internet for All initiative.

Read now to learn more about the Digital Equity Act and what adult education leadership and advocates should know to take action now.

What is the Digital Equity Act?

  • Part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law)
  • Three programs focused on digital inclusion and equity, with a goal of ensuring that “all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy” (NTIA)

The Three Programs

  1. State Planning Grant: $60 million (via formula funding) for states to create their Digital Equity Plan over one year
  2. State Capacity Grant: $1.44 billion (via formula funding) for states to implement their Digital Equity Plan over five years
  3. Competitive Grant: $1.25 billion (via competitive funding) for eligible entities to implement digital inclusion activities over five years

(Timeline from NTIA’s Digital Equity Act Programs Overview fact sheet.)

What is in a Digital Equity Plan?

A state’s plan must include the following:

  1. The barriers to digital equity faced by covered populations in the state
  2. Measurable objectives for
    1. availability and affordability of broadband access, devices, and technical support
    2. digital literacy
    3. online accessibility of public services
    4. individual online privacy and cybersecurity
  3. An assessment of how the above objectives will impact and interact with the State’s economic, educational, health, social, and other outcomes
  4. A description of how the State will collaborate with key stakeholders to achieve the above objectives
  5. A list of organizations with which the State’s administering entity collaborated on the Digital Equity Plan

What Now?

State adult education agencies and local adult education programs have an imperative to get involved with their state’s planning process:

  • The overwhelming majority of adult learners fall into more than one of the DEA’s “covered populations,” which include individuals with a language barrier and individuals who are part of a racial or ethnic minority.
  • State adult education agencies, nonprofits, and community anchor institutions – including organizations that represent individuals with language barriers – are all listed as key stakeholders in the legislation.
  • Adult educators have the connections and expertise to ensure their learners are represented and heard, and the experience to continue leading digital inclusion work for their local communities.
  • The DEA page recognizes the role that community organizations play in delivering digital literacy services and helping communities adopt internet use, encouraging organizations to use DEA funding to scale these services and promote best practices at the state level.

Adult education leaders now need to focus their efforts on identifying who in their state is leading the application process for the State Planning Grant and the resulting planning process. (This could potentially be the State broadband office, but NTIA will release a full list of all administering entities once compiled.) Once at the table, leaders can advocate for their learners, as well as current digital inclusion models that have already proved successful.

Further Guidance

World Education will release further guidance and/or resources for adult education leaders as we learn more. For now, you can find further information on the DEA on the Internet for All site or read the full NOFO for the Planning Grant.

Other Digital Equity Resources from World Education

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