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What's New in Digital Equity: DOE Unveils National Plan for Closing Digital Divides

Plus, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has launched a digital equity challenge, a report found that nearly 90 percent of Michigan jobs require digital skills, North Carolina gets $82 million in broadband funding, and more.

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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:


The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) this week released the 2024 National Education Technology Plan (NETP): A Call to Action for Closing the Digital Access, Design and Use Divides.

While in the past, NETPs acted as a survey of the state of the education field, the 2024 NETP frames three key divides that hinder the potentially transformational power of educational technology to enhance the sector. These three divides are categorized as the digital use divide, digital design divide and digital access divide.

Regarding the digital use divide, the resource addresses opportunities to improve students’ use of technology to enhance their learning and engagement with academic content. Regarding the digital design divide, the resource addresses opportunities for educators to learn how to design learning experiences that integrate technology. And finally, regarding the digital access divide, the resource addresses opportunities for both students and educators to gain equitable access to educational technology; this includes connectivity and devices as well as accessibility and digital health and safety.

The 2024 NETP maps each of these divides to what it describes as the “instructional core,” which includes students, teachers and content. The resource focuses on how schools, districts, and even more broadly, states can use ed tech to enhance learning experiences and enable student access to positive opportunities and outcomes.

The resource also provides action-oriented recommendations to close the three digital divides for states, districts, school leaders and other stakeholders using examples from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and several territories.

“The 2024 National Educational Technology Plan is a forward-thinking approach to reframing and realizing the potential of educational technology to enhance the instructional core, reduce achievement gaps, and improve student learning in our schools,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in the announcement.

NETP was first released in fulfillment of the 2000 Educate America Act, but it has seen several updates since that release. More information about the 2024 NETP can be found on the DOE’s website.

In addition to the 2024 NETP, the DOE also released guidance to help increase awareness and understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s requirements regarding assistive technologies and services.

Finally, the DOE also released a collection of federal resources to support students’ digital health, safety and citizenship. (Julia Edinger)


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of new municipal broadband networks in the U.S. has soared, according to a new tally from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

Indeed, the ILSR found that since 2021, at least 47 new municipal networks have come online across the country, with dozens more in some stage of planning or pre-construction. In one staggering example, the ILSR notes that California alone may be home to as many as 40 new municipal networks in the years to come.

And the count doesn't even include all community broadband networks, excluding some municipal network-adjacent efforts, such as member-owned electric cooperatives putting down fiber. It also doesn't count the rising number of tribal nations that are building their own networks.

The spike is perhaps a direct result of the pandemic, which increased awareness of broadband and digital equity challenges in this country exponentially. Before the pandemic, these topics were being discussed, but were certainly not mainstream nor near the top of the priorities lists of many national decision-makers. But when the pandemic forced everyone home, broadband and digital equity gaps were stark and evident.

What resulted as a new surge in not only understanding of the work, but willingness to embrace solutions that had previously met pushback, one of which — as this count would very much seem to indicate — was municipal broadband networks.

More information about the count and about municipal networks — including some examples of new ones that have been effective — can be found via the ILSR. (Zack Quaintance)


Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and Comcast Corporation announced a $1.5 million grant awards program focused on improving digital skills. The program, Talent for Tomorrow: Digital Equity Challenge, will support the launch of local workforce programs designed to close the digital skills gap and advance economic mobility by increasing both college and career readiness.

The challenge will award a total of $1.5 million in grants to 10 cities through a competitive process, involving an independent panel of judges selected by USCM. Recipients will include three large cities, three medium-sized cities and four small cities.

The challenge is part of Project UP, Comcast’s $1 billion commitment to help close the digital divide. The winning cities will be announced in June 2024. Comcast's commitment has also supported communities in Massachusetts, Indiana and more. (Julia Edinger)


North Carolina has announced $82 million in new broadband investments.

The announcement was made by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and President Biden, appearing together. The money for the new funding comes from the American Rescue Plan's Capital Projects Fund, and officials predict it will help connect at least 16,000 North Carolina homes and businesses to high-speed Internet.

This money is part of an ongoing historic investment in U.S. high-speed Internet infrastructure currently making its way down from the federal government to the states. North Carolina alone, for example, has received more than $3 billion in federal funding aimed at getting the entire state connected.

Interested parties can read more about today's announcement here. (Zack Quaintance)


In other state news, nearly 90 percent of Michigan jobs require digital skills, according to a new report from the National Skills Coalition (NSC). The analysis found that 89 percent of jobs in the state require digital skills. Previous NSC research had found that one-third of workers lack the digital skills necessary to successfully enter today’s job market.

NSC will work with policymakers, state coalitions, Comcast and nonprofit partners over the next year to help state leaders prepare for and take advantage of federal funding opportunities from the historic $40 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.

This follows a national report released last year by NSC that found that 92 percent of jobs require digital skills. And as one of that report’s authors previously told Government Technology, investing in skills-building is critical to the labor market. (Julia Edinger)


A study from the Fiber Broadband Association unveils details about the cost of fiber broadband deployment.

The study detailed that labor contributes to 73 percent of underground build costs and 67 percent of aerial costs. The study found that cost varies both by region and by deployment method. For example, the initial cost per foot for aerial deployment is less than half that of underground, but this difference is negated in the long run. Other cost influencers include population density, terrain and region.

While overall deployment costs are expected to increase in 2024, some areas of cost are expected to decrease, such as cost of materials as well as engineering and permitting costs. (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.