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What’s New in Digital Equity: FCC Asks Consumers to Share Broadband Input

Plus, Michigan’s High-Speed Internet Office launches a $238 million grant program to support connectivity in unserved areas, new research examines steps needed to close the digital divide in Black communities, and more.

People sitting in rows in a gym participating in a town hall meeting.
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 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking consumers to share their individual broadband experiences as the federal agency continues working to study and ultimately address digital discrimination.

Announced via a press release, this request is being made by the FCC’s Task Force to Prevent Digital Discrimination, a body that was established by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. That task force is a cross-agency effort that is establishing rules and policies that will cut down on digital discrimination, thereby promoting more equitable access to broadband.

“Too many people still do not have the connections they need to fully participate in modern life,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel in a statement. “We want to give consumers the opportunity to share their firsthand experiences and challenges getting and staying online. This will help inform our understanding of when, where, and why digital discrimination happens and will provide important insight for our work moving forward.”

The formal end of this request is a form that can be completed with the relevant information. (Zack Quaintance)


In related news, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a public notice announcing a March 21, 2023, due date for comments related to the digital discrimination Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

The NPRM, which was adopted in December 2022, aims to define digital discrimination, revise the FCC’s complaint process to accept those related to digital discrimination of access, and adopt best practices for states and localities to combat digital discrimination. The FCC seeks comment on the scope of digital discrimination of access and how to facilitate equal access.

This action builds on previous FCC actions to combat digital discrimination, including the creation of a dedicated task force. Those interested in submitting a comment may do so through the FCC’s filing system. (Julia Edinger)


The Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) is now accepting applications for a grant program that will dole out $238 million in federal funds aimed at the deployment of broadband in the state’s underserved areas.

The MIHI program — dubbed Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN) — is powered by the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. The list of entities that are eligible to apply includes Internet service providers, licensees under the Michigan Telecommunications Act, franchise holders under the Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act, or any other entity that is currently providing broadband within the state.

“The mission of MIHI is to create a more digitally equitable state where every Michigander can leverage technology to improve their quality of life,” said Susan Corbin, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “The ROBIN Grant Program will provide the dollars needed for the development and expansion of broadband infrastructure to underserved areas and increase Internet access and affordability to many Michigan families and businesses.”

The window for applications for these grants is slated to close on March 14, and interested parties can find more info about applying via MIHI’s funding page. (Zack Quaintance)


According to new research from McKinsey & Company, the digital divide disproportionately affects Black American households. Forty percent of Black American households lack high-speed, fixed broadband, whereas only 28 percent of white American households lack access.

In addition, the research underlines that broadband access is only one piece of the digital equity puzzle; 77 percent of white workers have the digital skills needed to participate in a tech-driven economy, while the same is true for approximately half of Black workers, according to one study.

McKinsey offers five recommended steps to expand broadband access and improve digital equity in Black communities: make explicit statewide commitments; conduct a comprehensive survey; involve all stakeholders; partner with local stakeholders; and seek out partnerships. (Julia Edinger)


The Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) has awarded $261 million in grants to 60 recipients to expand high-speed Internet statewide. The funding announced this week will be distributed through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program and is expected to create 55,000 new connections.

“As we continue striving for a fully-connected future, we look forward to this program’s results and appreciate the stakeholder support that helped make it possible,” said BJ Tanksley, director of the Office of Broadband Development, in the announcement.

The grant program was launched in August 2022, and the grants are administered by DED’s Office of Broadband Development. The program prioritized unserved and underserved areas in awarding grants. (Julia Edinger)


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has joined the O-RAN Alliance, which is a nonprofit group made up of mobile operators, academics, government institutions, and vendors, all sharing the goal of making radio access network (RAN) tech more open.

This is relevant to digital equity because RAN tech is what allows devices to communicate using radio waves, giving rise to a list that includes cell towers, mobile phones and Wi-Fi devices. What the O-RAN Alliance does, essentially, is create tech specifications so that manufacturers and network operators can mix and match products from vendors. Ultimately, this means less reliance on singular vendors, thereby broadening the marketplace.

The NIST formalizing its own involvement with the group means the U.S. federal government is stepping into all of this.

“By joining the O-RAN Alliance, NIST will enhance U.S. leadership in wireless technologies and promote stable and diverse supply chains, which are a priority for this administration,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Laurie E. Locascio in a statement. “NIST will also promote open and transparent standards for 5G and other next-generation wireless technologies to help ensure data privacy and protect against cyber threats.”

This new involvement in the group comes in addition to NIST’s pre-existing program that focuses on Open RAN tech. (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.