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What’s New in Digital Equity: A Look at New Legislation

Plus, more states see their digital equity plans accepted, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance unveils a low-cost plan model as an alternative to the ACP, and more.

US Capitol building at sunset
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:

There were several noteworthy announcements in the legislative space that relate to digital equity this week. First, the House approved broadband-related legislation; and second, the Senate introduced spectrum pipeline legislation.

In an announcement, the House noted it has approved 10 pieces of legislation under the jurisdiction of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including H.R. 1752.

H.R. 1752, also known as the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (E-BRIDGE) Act, aims to remove hurdles for broadband projects under the Economic Development Administration, such as last-mile efforts, that could delay rural broadband development.

The legislation provides flexibility in procurement to address communities with limited availability of services. It also enables partnerships between local communities and the private sector for broadband projects.

“The E-BRIDGE Act will help spur projects that attract jobs and businesses to expand economic development and opportunity in rural and poor communities,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves said in the announcement.

Separately, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John Thune announced new spectrum pipeline legislation this week.

The Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2024 does several things. Among them, it requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to identify spectrum that can be reallocated from federal to non-federal use. It would also create new reporting requirements, ensuring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and NTIA submit annual reports to Congress.

FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington released a statement in which he called this legislation a “commonsense approach” to making spectrum available for commercial use. (Julia Edinger)


In other spectrum-related news, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration released the National Spectrum Strategy Implementation Plan.

The plan acts as a road map for the National Spectrum Strategy, outlining timeline and milestones for the in-depth study of spectrum. In addition, it specifies which federal agencies are responsible for meeting the goals of the strategy. The document will evolve as needed, but it identifies the expected start and end dates for each of the objectives in the strategy.

There has been mixed reaction to the plan. Some stakeholders view it positively, like CTIA — The Wireless Association President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker, who said in a statement that the association is encouraged by the plan. Others, like Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr, argue the plan is “mostly a cavalcade of promises and process.” In contrast, Carr called the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2024 “smart legislation.” (Julia Edinger)


The federal government has accepted digital equity plans from three more states — South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

These are the plans the states must create to get their share of the $2.75 billion of digital equity funding coming down through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The idea is that money will go toward grant programs established by the states, aimed at supporting digital equity work being done at the community level.

All 50 states — as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico — have submitted digital equity plans to the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. These three new acceptances bring the total number up to nine. Last month, the federal government approved plans from Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Puerto Rico and West Virginia.

Each plan varies by state. Interested parties can check out the press releases to learn more about the plans in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. (Zack Quaintance)


The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has created a Low-Cost Plan Model to support Internet service providers in offering a fixed discount that could be applied to any plan for qualifying households. The model was released as an effort to provide Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) participants an alternative as that program winds down.

Last week, the FCC issued a formal announcement notifying providers that April is the final full month of the ACP. On the same day, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel wrote to Congress, urging members to take action to continue the program; the ACP Extension Act is an example of action Congress could take.

Rosenworcel is not alone in her support for the program’s continuation. The Biden-Harris administration, a coalition of governors, a group of senators and a variety of other organizations have also called on Congress to take action around extending it. (Julia Edinger)


In other federal news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced investments in infrastructure in tribal communities, including some that focus on Internet.

This announcement signifies investment of $58 million in tribal communities in Nevada, Oklahoma and South Dakota, intended to support high-speed Internet deployment, infrastructure and economic growth.

“When we invest in modern infrastructure for people who live in tribal communities, we create a ripple effect that impacts everyone,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in the announcement.

The funding for Internet comes from the ReConnect Program, which has already enabled the awarding of $1.1 billion for broadband in tribal communities. This announcement builds on USDA’s work to address systemic barriers that exist for tribal communities to access USDA programming. (Julia Edinger)


The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) announced the launch of the $22 million Residential Internet Retrofit Program last week. The initiative aims to equip public and affordable housing units with high-speed Internet.

As MBI Director Michael Baldino explained in the announcement, a significant amount of public housing buildings are at least 50 years old, and the wiring pre-dates the Internet age, creating barriers to accessing high-speed broadband service.

The initiative aims to update wiring infrastructure in about 22,000 units in affordable housing developments using funding from the Capital Projects Fund. MBI will work with Internet service providers and property owners for this effort. (Julia Edinger)
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. 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.
Associate editor for <i>Government Technology</i> magazine.