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What’s New in Digital Equity: The Digital Equity Foundation Act

Plus, the NTIA has updated its guide for federal broadband funding; New York City is offering free municipal broadband to housing authority residents; a new paper explores telehealth’s impact on maternal health; and more.

The front of the U.S. Capitol building at sunrise on a cloudy day.
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
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 group of U.S. senators has introduced the Digital Equity Foundation Act, which is federal legislation that would establish a nonprofit foundation to work on digital inclusion, digital literacy and, ultimately, closing the digital divide.

The foundation would do this by leveraging a mix of public and private investments. It would supplement the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) — a federal agency within the executive branch that advises the president on telecommunications and information policy issues — as well as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Essentially, this legislation is proposing a nonprofit to lead federal work toward achieving digital equity.

This sort of approach — namely, Congress creating a nonprofit to support the mission of existing federal agencies — has been taken with other issues. In fact, it has been done with the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Park Service. As with the proposed new organization, all of those agencies have supplemental nonprofits that work to leverage public-private partnerships in support of their goals. Another function of such groups is to support innovation.

The new foundation would be managed by a board of experts from the fields of digital equity, tech and telecommunications. The senators detailed the legislation in a recent press release, and it has already drawn support from some of the nation’s leading groups on digital inclusion, including the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, among others.

This marks a new and ongoing focus on digital equity from decision-makers at the federal level. In 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also allocated $2.75 billion for digital equity work in the U.S., a historic amount.


The NTIA has updated its federal broadband funding guide.

This guide serves as a centralized place to find resources for those who are applying for federal broadband funding, which has been ample since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the federal government has prioritized trying to help get the entire country connected to high-speed Internet.

This funding guide is also the most comprehensive set of such resources. It includes federal broadband funding opportunities, along with related information, for more than 80 federal programs spread across 14 different federal agencies. It’s a wide variety of funding chances for high-speed Internet too, with money for planning, infrastructure and digital inclusion work.

Updates include new programs, specifically those that are funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other new sources. Program types in the guide include grants, loans and indirect support, as well as discounts for state, local and other government agencies.

The website is searchable by programs, agencies, purposes and eligible recipients. New fields after the update include matching requirements, complimentary federal funding options, speed requirements for broadband infrastructure, grant beneficiaries and more.


New York City has launched a new program aimed at making free high-speed Internet available to the roughly 30,000 residents of the city’s 200 public housing authority developments.

The goal is to execute this by the end of 2023. This announcement — which was made by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser — comes after a similar program was piloted at eight public housing developments that are spread throughout all five boroughs. Even ahead of the announcement, the program has expanded to more than 100 developments.

The program is now called Big Apple Connect, and logistically, it involves a free bundle that includes an in-home high-speed Internet connection, a modem, a router, and basic cable TV. In addition, some common areas in the developments will also have Wi-Fi hot spots.

Across the country, municipal housing authorities have increasingly worked with other local government agencies on digital inclusion projects such as this one. New York City is billing Big Apple Connect as the country’s largest free municipal broadband program.


With states across the country preparing to receive Digital Equity Act Planning Grant Awards, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has posted some advice for the local coalitions that are on the front lines of the work, noting that the plan specifically calls for states to collaborate with such groups.

“The bottom line: Administering entities need local input to develop the plans,” the NDIA wrote in its guidance, “and this is an opportunity for coalitions to partner with government leaders to support the development of an impactful digital equity plan.”

The full set of advice, as well as a link to register with the NDIA, can be found on the group’s website.


A newly published paper from Next Century Cities looks at the connection between telehealth and the maternal health crisis in the U.S.

Dubbed Changing Our [Virtual] Reality: Telehealth and the United States Maternal Health Crisis, the paper was authored by Dr. Brittany-Rae Gregory. It offers readers a brief history of maternal health, telehealth and the current crisis. It also details information about initiatives and legislation that have been created to address the crisis.

The report offers further advice for policymakers to address the maternal health crisis, including ensuring that telehealth providers take cultural competency classes; continually accessing individual experiences with telehealth; and realizing that digital access and literacy are critical to make sure that telehealth is available to those who need it nationwide.


In other advisory news, another relatively new paper is offering best practices for those who are collecting Internet speed data.

The paper, dubbed fittingly Best Practices for Collecting Speed Test Data, was published by the University of Chicago. It can be read in its entirety via SSRN. The recommendations are based on an analysis of speed test data the researchers collected in-lab, along with learnings from a six-month-long deployment across 77 households in Chicago.


Finally, the FCC has announced $55 million in new Emergency Connectivity Funding, an initiative that helps ensure that schools and libraries are connected to high-speed Internet.

This new round of funding is going to recipients in California, Indiana, Michigan, Puerto Rico and Texas, benefiting roughly 125,000 students. To date, this program has seen the FCC dole out $5.9 billion to schools and libraries nationwide.

More information, as well as a list of funding recipients, can be found via the FCC’s website.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.