Broadband's Role in Federal Equity Action Plans

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, February 16, 2024

Digital Beat

Broadband's Role in Federal Equity Action Plans

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of February 12-16, 2024

Kevin Taglang

Through the implementation of two Executive Orders on equity and President Joe Biden's Investing in America Agenda, the Biden-Harris Administration is working to advance opportunity and make real the promise of America for everyone.  In the rural South and dense urban areas alike, Black Americans are about twice as likely as their white counterparts to lack high-speed internet access.

‘Equity’ means the consistent and systematic treatment of all individuals in a fair, just, and impartial manner, including individuals who belong to communities that often have been denied such treatment.

This week, marking the first anniversary of the signing of President Biden’s second Executive Order on equity, federal agencies, including all Cabinet-level agencies, released their 2023 Equity Action Plans, which include over 100 community-informed strategies and actions to address systemic barriers in our Nation’s policies and programs. And the Administration released a new White House Progress Report on Equity, which highlights examples of the more than 650 actions agencies have undertaken since the release of their 2022 Equity Action Plans. 

Reading through the 2023 equity action plans, we see that lack of access to broadband is a barrier to equity.

Broadband & Equity in 2023

Tackling the digital divide is a key aspect of the Administration's equity agenda. The White House Progress Report on Equity notes these accomplishments in 2023:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development’s ReConnect Program provides loans, grants, and loan-grant combinations to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas that lack sufficient access to broadband. In fiscal year (FY) 2022, in the program’s third round of funding, USDA authorized 100 percent grants (without matching requirements) for Alaska Native Corporations, Tribal governments, Colonias, persistent poverty areas, and socially vulnerable communities. For the fourth round, an additional no-match funding category was added in August 2022, for projects where 90 percent of households lack sufficient access to broadband.
  • USDA's new Broadband Technical Assistance (BTA) program makes funding available to rural communities, technical assistance providers, and cooperatives. The BTA program promotes broadband expansion in rural areas with support for project planning and community engagement, financial sustainability, environmental compliance, construction planning and engineering, accessing federal resources, and data collection and reporting. $20 million is available to help rural communities access broadband technical assistance resources and to support the development/expansion of broadband cooperatives.
  • The Department of Commerce Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program allocated more than $42 billion for broadband construction, improvements, and access to deploy or upgrade broadband networks to ensure everyone in America has access to reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet service; nearly a billion dollars in Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program grants allocated across 36 organizations across 40 states and territories to support the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle-mile infrastructure; and $288 million in Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) funds awarded to 14 recipients to begin breaking ground this year through partnerships between states and Internet service providers to expand Internet access to areas without service, especially rural areas.
  • To better support minority-serving anchor institutions, the Department of Commerce is implementing the Connecting Minority Communities (CMC) Pilot Program, which provided $268 million in grant funding to 43 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), 31 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and 21 Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and five Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) to purchase broadband Internet service and eligible equipment, or to hire and train information technology personnel, to upgrade classroom technology, and to increase digital literacy skills.  
  • The Department of Commerce Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program provided $980 million to Tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on Tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion initiatives. The Department invested $100 million through the Indigenous Communities program funding, which was awarded to 51 recipients in 25 states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to support the needs of Tribal governments and Indigenous communities.  

Broadband's Role in Federal Equity Action Plans 

Equity Action Plans are released annually by major Federal agencies and departments. Collectively, these Equity Action Plans lay out concrete commitments to address the inequities that hold far too many communities back from prosperity, dignity, and equality. Here is a look at the plans for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Treasury.

Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's mission is: “To serve all Americans by providing effective, innovative, science-based public policy leadership in agriculture, food and nutrition, natural resource protection and management, rural development, and related issues with a commitment to delivering equitable and climate-smart opportunities that inspire and help America thrive.” To achieve this, USDA must:

  1. Identify and root out systemic discrimination in USDA programs;
  2. Ensure equitable access to USDA programs and services for all communities, including by removing barriers to access and working to repair past mistakes that have resulted in economic, social, and racial disparities; and
  3. Promote nutrition security, a healthy environment, and the opportunity for a good life for every person, in every community in America. 

For too long, too many people in rural America and on tribal lands have been left out of the digital economy. Long distances between customers and difficult terrain make building broadband networks in rural areas difficult, and provision of broadband services more expensive.

USDA is promoting rural prosperity and economic security by connecting business owners to new markets, empowering people with modern infrastructure, and supporting community-driven opportunities and solutions to build brighter futures in rural America.

USDA will continue to work towards 100 percent connectivity through the ReConnect Loan and Grant Program, so all rural communities have the same access to high-speed affordable internet as their urban counterparts. To speed progress, USDA has added funding categories for full grant funding (not loan and grant combinations), for Alaska Native Corporations, Tribal Governments, Colonias, Persistent Poverty Areas, and Socially Vulnerable Communities, as well as for projects where 90 percent of households lack sufficient access to broadband.

To further support rural communities in need of high-speed internet, Congress has directed USDA to implement a broadband technical assistance strategy. In response, USDA is making funding available to rural communities, technical assistance providers, and cooperatives through a new Broadband Technical Assistance (BTA) program, which promotes broadband expansion in rural areas with support for project planning and community engagement, financial sustainability, environmental compliance, construction planning and engineering, accessing federal resources, and data collection and reporting. Twenty million dollars is available to help rural communities access broadband technical assistance resources and to support the development/expansion of broadband cooperatives. This funding is part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Department of Commerce

The Department of Commerce’s mission is to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity for all communities. One of the Department's five strategic goals is to foster equitable economic growth for all. 

Lack of wraparound services—such as affordable, high-quality internet service, childcare, and education—prevent many people from accessing job training programs, thereby missing out on opportunities for employment in high-growth industries. Specifically, the lack of access to internet service is a significant barrier for underserved communities, hampering full participation in modern life, such as starting a business, offering services or goods via e-commerce, taking online courses and training, finding a doctor, and much more.

The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is the lead agency in the Biden-Harris Administration's efforts to ensure that everyone in America has access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet.

NTIA is deploying nearly $50 billion to invest in broadband infrastructure deployment, affordability, and digital equity and inclusion efforts. Closing the digital divide will be a major step toward dismantling structural barriers to inclusive economic growth. These investments will fuel economic development as the programs are expected to create more than 150,000 jobs. Here are the next steps for BEAD and updates on the State Digital Equity Act programs that make up NTIA’s Internet for All initiatives:

The BEAD program requires states and territories to develop workforce plans that include strategies to ensure the job opportunities created will be available to a diverse pool of workers, including women and people of color. 

  • Awaiting approval of initial proposals for BEAD: States, D.C., and territories (Eligible Entities) submitted their proposals for NTIA approval at the end of 2023, after fulfilling the public disclosure and comment requirements to facilitate community engagement and input. Once approved, Eligible Entities will have access to at least 20 percent of their BEAD grant funds and can begin implementation of eligible activities. An Eligible Entity may initiate its competitive subgrantee selection process upon approval of its initial proposal and will have up to one year to conduct additional local coordination, complete the selection process, and submit a final proposal to NTIA. The BEAD Program required stakeholder outreach with a focus on ensuring robust local engagement and outreach to underserved communities. Eligible Entities must identify these communities and determine specific outreach and engagement strategies tailored to their needs, including providing outreach in the languages used in the communities these eligible activities serve.
  • The $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act Program includes three grant programs that promote digital inclusion and equity to ensure that all individuals and communities have access to the skills and tools needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy. Since late 2022, NTIA has awarded State Digital Equity Planning Grant funds to 56 states and territories and expects digital equity plans to be submitted starting in late 2023.


The Department of Treasury's mission is to maintain a strong economy by promoting conditions that enable equitable and sustainable economic growth at home and abroad, combating threats to, and protecting the integrity of the financial system, and managing the U.S. government’s finances and resources effectively. 

A key strategic goal at Treasury is to repair the economic damage of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure all communities have access to the high-quality modern infrastructure needed to access critical services. 

Individuals and communities of color, rural areas, and counties with persistent poverty have historically lacked investment in programs such as broadband access, necessary to jumpstart economic development and growth. This lack of access leads to higher costs among certain communities, and challenges in aspects of daily living, such as remote work, education, and telehealth. 

The American Rescue Plan Act tasked the Treasury Department with implementing major initiatives, including State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds and the Capital Projects Fund (CPF). Treasury has awarded over $8 billion for broadband projects to connect millions of Americans across the country to high-speed internet.

Treasury plans to approve additional state plans for the CPF, which is providing high-speed reliable broadband to communities currently lacking high-speed internet access, digital connectivity projects, and multi-purpose community facility projects; this will help to address the lack of high-speed internet for the millions of households, small businesses, and communities with unreliable internet access. CPF also requires each state to participate in the Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides discounts of up to $30 per month (or up to $75 per eligible household on Tribal lands) for internet access. 

Treasury has also developed an Economic Recovery Learning Agenda, which outlines the important equity-focused evaluation questions the Department is interested in pursuing to understand the impact of economic recovery programs and learn lessons for future similar efforts. Evaluation priorities include understanding the impact of recovery funds on low-income Americans, the long-term impact on housing stability for tenants and homeowners, and how the CPF is closing gaps in broadband access. 

Digital Equity is a Key Part of Equity

Equity Action Plans are a critical component of the comprehensive approach for the Federal government to transform itself—to ensure that fairness and equity become not just ideals, but principles embedded in the daily practices by which government serves its people.

The plans released this week are also a reminder that digital equity is equity and cannot stand outside the broader work of ensuring that everyone has opportunities based on their needs. Without digital equity, communities will continue to face significant barriers to accessing opportunities and vital resources, thereby perpetuating existing inequalities and further widening the digital divide. 

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Feb 21––How Libraries Can Upgrade Their Internet Through the BEAD Program (SHLB Coalition)

Feb 29––Mapping the Future of Digital Privacy (Semafor)

Mar 5-6––Tribal Workshop at Marksville, Louisiana (FCC)

Mar 5-7––ACA Connects Summit 2024 (ACA Connects)

Mar 12––Connecting One Minnesota (Minnesota Office of Broadband Development)

Mar 14––March 2024 Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting (FCC)

Mar 20––Life After ACP (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)

Mar 25––The Right Connection (CENIC)


The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Kevin Taglang.