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What’s New in Digital Equity: Groups Urge FCC to Support Broadband Labels

Plus, New York program submits 31,000 unserved addresses to help inform broadband mapping effort, a new report outlines how policymakers can support libraries working to foster digital equity, and more.

A temporary road closure barrier that says “broadband” on it.
This week in “What’s New in Digital Equity” — our weekly look at government digital equity and broadband news — we have a number of interesting items, which you can jump to with the links below:


A total of 31 groups and individuals involved with digital equity have submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of broadband labels.

The letter is online and public, and it was sent Tuesday, Nov. 1. The goal of the letter is to voice support to the FCC of broadband consumer labels, which are mandated by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and also endorsed by an executive order signed by President Biden. These labels, in brief, are aimed at making high-speed Internet billing transparent. The letter highlights the importance of the labels being handled in a way that makes it easy for consumers to find them, and it urges decision-makers to reject any proposals that would limit the appearance of the label to point-of-sale.

“Accordingly, the Commission should require the clear and prominent display of the label on the customer’s monthly bill,” the signees wrote. “This is where consumers most frequently interact with their ISP and need the information provided in the label to identify surprise fees and other inaccuracies.”

Signees for this letter are numerous and varied, with the list including local broadband support groups, national leaders in digital equity such as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and even individuals such as Jon M. Peha, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who is also the former FCC chief technologist. (Zack Quaintance)


New York’s ConnectALL Office — which leads that state’s efforts to deliver affordable Internet and boost digital equity — has submitted more than 31,000 addresses in its jurisdiction to the FCC, doing so as part of the Broadband Data Collection challenge process.

What this means is that New York has basically tried to tell the feds where there are people in the state who are lacking access to high-speed Internet, as the FCC works to update its maps, a project that remains ongoing. In a statement announcing this submission, New York officials said they were in a position to do this due to broadband mapping tools that they had created themselves.

“Thanks to our first-of-its-kind broadband mapping tool we have a clearer picture than ever about New York’s broadband needs and we are better able to advocate for federal funding and program support to fill those gaps,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in a statement.

This effort to let the feds know how many people in the state lack access to high-speed Internet comes in advance of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act disbursing a historic amount of funding for broadband. That disbursement is expected to start in 2023, and it will go to states and territories based in large part on the proportion of unserved and underserved homes and businesses in their jurisdictions. A submission like this is essentially a state taking the initiative and making its case as the money is being prepared to be sent on to them.

New York’s aforementioned state interactive broadband map can be found online now. (Zack Quaintance)


A report released last week by the American Library Association (ALA), titled Leverage Libraries to Achieve Digital Equity for All, highlights the role that libraries play in advancing digital equity. The report argues that policymakers should draw on the expertise of library professionals in state and local planning processes for the incoming federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

The report underlines the fact that 88 percent of public libraries offer some type of digital literacy programming to their community. Some examples are highlighted in the report, such as the partnership between the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the Pottsboro Area Public Library in Texas, which allows individuals with limited bandwidth at home to meet privately with medical practitioners through telehealth.

Most of the federal funding available through the IIJA will be allocated to entities based on their five-year digital equity plans, and those plans must include collaboration with community partners like libraries. In many places, libraries are on the front lines with technology access and skills training, so such partnerships can leverage existing knowledge and connections to maximize the impact of funding. (Julia Edinger)


The United States Digital Response (USDR) has announced a new focus area — user research.

As part of this announcement, the group has put out a call for partners in this work, and they have also shared related lessons from working with government agencies. The areas in which user research can help government are many, ranging from procuring resident-facing systems to increasing benefit utilization among constituents to clearing up application backlogs and more.

“Creating a government ‘of the people, by the people, [and] for the people’ takes intention,” USDR noted in its announcement. “Just barely a year ago, the Biden Administration signed an Executive Order on ‘transforming federal customer experience and service delivery’ with the goal to improve the design of digital services and the customer experience for all people. At USDR, we see user research as a vital part of this process.”

The announcement can be read in its entirety via the USDR website. (Zack Quaintance)


In an effort to help connect the underconnected, AT&T will contribute over $10 million, as well as the support of employee volunteers, to distribute free laptops to students and families across the country. A total of 26,000 computers will be provided, per the announcement.

This is part of the company’s $2 billion commitment to combat the digital divide by offering connectivity, Internet-enabled devices and digital skills training. This effort is made possible through collaboration between AT&T employees and nonprofits Compudopt and Human-I-T. These nonprofit organizations refurbish and distribute computers, as well as providing digital literacy skills training and tech support. (Julia Edinger)


In other federal funding news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a significant investment in expanding Internet access last week — $759 million in total. This investment will help to bring high-speed Internet access to people in 24 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and Palau. This investment is made possible in part due to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The funding announced last week by USDA is part of the third funding round of the ReConnect Program, for which USDA has announced $1.6 billion in 2022. This funding will support 49 grant awardees, many of which aim to help rural communities on tribal lands.

Awardees vary, and more information about the projects that will be funded through these dollars can be found on USDA’s website. (Julia Edinger)
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology</i>. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.