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What’s New in Digital Equity: An Update on Net Neutrality

Plus, the White House announces $401 million in broadband funding now headed toward rural areas, a strong majority of adults in the U.S. now considers high-speed Internet a necessity, and much more.

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:


Officials throughout the federal government turned their focus to net neutrality this week, with a group of lawmakers as well as the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) chairwoman weighing in on the importance of reinstating the protections, which are aimed at making the Internet open and more equitable.

The renewed attention on net neutrality — protections for which were put in place during the Obama presidency and then removed by the FCC under Trump — resulted in proposed legislation in Congress. Dubbed the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, the bill was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as well as Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In broad strokes, this legislation seeks to codify broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, which would immediately reinstate net neutrality protections. Those protections have previously been subject to FCC votes that have gone entirely along party lines, with democrat-appointed commissioners of the FCC voting for net neutrality protections and republican-nominated commissioners voting to remove them. The FCC — which has five commissioner spots — is currently split evenly, with President Biden’s nominee for the fifth position, Gigi Sohn, stalled in the Senate.

The new bill if passed would make it so that net neutrality protections are not subject to FCC vote at all, and they would instead be codified, meaning any alteration of them in the future would need to be decided by Congress.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel released a statement this week supporting the legislation. That statement read in part, “The pandemic made clear internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity — and that consumers don’t just need broadband, they need to be able to hold their providers to account. After all, everyone should be able to go where they want and do what they want online without their broadband provider making choices for them. I support Net Neutrality because it fosters this openness and accountability.”

Net neutrality protections essentially make it so that companies that provide Internet cannot block or throttle access to bandwidth, or give individual stakeholders paid prioritization to fast and effective Internet. The lawmakers who introduced the bill say it is important to re-establish these protections in a more permanent manner in the wake of the federal government’s ongoing historic investment in the nation’s Internet infrastructure, which included a related historic investment in digital equity.

These investments represent a cultural shift in which Internet has moved from being seen as a luxury toward being considered an essential utility, one that members of a modern society must now have in order to participate fully in education, workforce development, health care and other areas.

This legislation “would give the FCC the tools it needs to protect the free and open internet, creating a just broadband future for everyone in our country,” Sen. Markey said in a statement. (Zack Quaintance)


Increased federal government support has also emerged this week for supporting efforts to bring better and more affordable high-speed Internet to tribal communities throughout the country.

This support includes a federal coalition announcing a national summit around how to improve high-speed Internet in those areas, a new $500,000 from the Biden administration for a tribal community, and a group of lawmakers urging the FCC to consider ways that tribal nations can assume ownership of spectrum over their lands, which are the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel across.

For the summit, a number of federal agencies will partner on the effort. Specifically, the Department of the Interior and the Institute of Museum and Library Services will work with the Department of Agriculture as well as the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to make it happen. The event will be called the 2022 National Tribal Broadband Summit, and it will be happening virtually throughout the month of September. Organizers are currently accepting proposals for presentations for the event, and interested parties can register to attend now via its webpage.

That event will see a broad cross-section of stakeholders — including federal leaders, connectivity experts, and tribal leaders — collaborating on a range of topics, perhaps the most important of which is how to make the best use of the new federal broadband funding.

Meanwhile, the NTIA announced that a grant of nearly $500,000 is going to the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, aimed at developing a comprehensive high-speed Internet infrastructure deployment for their lands in rural Amador County, Calif., which is located just outside Sacramento.

Finally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele, D-Hawaii, sent a letter to the FCC chair asking the commission to consider ways it can advance tribal nations’ ownership of spectrum over their lands, thereby strengthening their sovereignty and enabling decisions to better enhance their communications. (Zack Quaintance)


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week that it is investing $401 million for high-speed Internet, helping to provide access for 31,000 residents and businesses in 11 states. The announcement includes investments from the ReConnect Program and an award from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee program.

As part of the announcement, Uprise LLC has been awarded a $27.1 million grant for a project to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network in Pershing County, Nev., which will serve people in the Lovelock Indian Colony and multiple socially vulnerable communities in the county. Another grant, amounting to $12 million, will help the Arkansas Telephone Company Inc. deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to bring connectivity to Searcy and Van Buren counties. In addition, the Midvale Telephone Company is receiving a $10.6 million loan for a fiber-to-the-home network to connect residences and businesses in multiple Idaho and Arizona counties. This loan will also serve socially vulnerable communities in Pinal County, Ariz., and Elmore County in Idaho.

USDA will make additional investments for high-speed Internet in rural areas later this summer. (Julia Edinger)


A new statewide broadband map displays Iowa’s broadband availability with federal grant guidelines at over 1 million locations. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Department of Management Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) announced the release of the map this week.

With more detail than previous maps, the resource aims to help identify areas with slower broadband speeds that may be eligible for future grant opportunities through the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Program. The program was created to support service providers in their efforts to install broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas.

The map was published Tuesday, which launched a 30-day challenge process where members of the public can submit information to the OCIO if they believe the map has incorrect information. Those who would like to submit a challenge can find more information on the OCIO’s website. (Julia Edinger)


Seventy percent of U.S. adults believe that “high-speed Internet is a basic necessity,” according to a survey commissioned by Kajeet, an IoT connectivity services provider. The survey, titled State of Internet Connectivity and the Digital Divide in the U.S., was conducted by OnePoll and collected data from 1,000 U.S. adults and 500 U.S. adults with school-aged children.

Notably, the survey found the same percentage of respondents — 70 percent — believed that high-speed Internet access was important for K-12 students’ learning both before and after the pandemic. And because schooling often requires work to be done at home, 61 percent of parents with school-aged children said schools could have provided high-speed Internet access to make distance learning more accessible.

Sixty-four percent of respondents worry about their ability to pay for Internet access, signifying that affordability is still a key component of expanding access and bridging the digital divide.

“The data clearly show that as the world opens after the pandemic, the need for reliable connectivity is necessary, and makes our society and economy more vibrant and resilient,” said Kajeet CEO and co-founder Daniel J.W. Neal in the announcement. (Julia Edinger)


Finally, in one last heavily technical item, the FCC this week also updated rules to support spectrum use for satellite broadband, which can be used to connect residents of far-flung regions where building Internet infrastructure is all but impossible. Satellite Internet is also beneficial to emergency responders while fighting things like wildfires.

Specifically, the FCC updated the 17 GHz rules, which you can read the specifics of via the FCC website. (Zack Quaintance)
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.