What did NTIA's Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth Accomplish in 2022?

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, May 19, 2023

Weekly Digest

What did NTIA's Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth Accomplish in 2022?

 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 May 15-19

Kevin Taglang

The Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) is housed within the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Congress created OICG in the ACCESS BROADBAND Act of 2021, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, to oversee all broadband activity at NTIA and lead federal efforts to fund and expand broadband access across the country. On May 8, 2023, OICG released its 2022 Annual Report detailing the work it accomplished as it administers the federal broadband grant programs established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 as well as NTIA’s broadband technical assistance programs that facilitate access to affordable, high-speed Internet service.

OICG is led by Associate Administrator Douglas Kinkoph and employs approximately 130 people across 38 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

The Critical Role of Federal Programs Officers in Advancing Universal Broadband

With the establishment of the Broadband Equity, Access, And Deployment (BEAD) and the Digital Equity (DE) Act Programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, OICG initiated the hiring of Federal Programs Officers (FPOs) to cover all 50 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. FPOs serve as liaisons between OICG and the broadband offices for the states and territories. FPOs serve as subject-matter experts and as connections between local stakeholders and NTIA, encouraging community engagement. In addition, FPOs monitor the work performed on the grant awards in their jurisdiction, create relationships, and act as a conduit to the federal government for the IIJA grant programs.

NTIA hired 117 new OICG employees in 2022, including 13 in leadership roles.

Funding Broadband Infrastructure and Digital Inclusion Efforts

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) authorized eight broadband grant programs, providing investments to bring high-speed and affordable Internet service to everyone in the U.S. As administrator of these grant programs, OICG provides support, technical assistance, and funding to deploy these historic investments. In 2022, NTIA awarded over $2.3 billion in funding through these programs.

From August 30 to September 1, 2022, NTIA organized and hosted an initial FPO Broadband Academy, a three-day internal training opportunity for newly hired NTIA FPOs and other NTIA staff. The Academy, held in Washington (DC), provided training in broadband infrastructure, deployment, and adoption, as well as the NTIA Internet for All broadband grant programs for over 150 staff members. NTIA organized the FPO Broadband Academy event to help give the FPOs the tools and resources they needed to start building relationships with state and local stakeholders, speak at events, and advance the agency’s effort for an on-the-ground approach to the Internet for All programs.

NTIA also established the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives (OMBI) within OICG, as directed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, to promote equitable broadband access to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and their communities across the country. 

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program is providing states and territories with funding to connect unserved locations, specifically those that have no Internet access or access under 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), and underserved locations that only have access under 100/20 Mbps. Congress allocated $42.45 billion to the BEAD Program to expand high-speed Internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs. In 2022, all eligible states and territories submitted Letters of Intent (LOI) to participate in the program. These eligible entities then submitted subsequent applications for up to $5 million in initial planning funds, with OICG disbursing planning funds totaling $254.5 million.

Digital Equity Act

The Digital Equity Act of 2021, also part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, established three grant programs totaling $2.75 billion. These programs aim to provide the skills, technology, and capacity needed for all people and communities to reap the full benefits of the digital economy. 

  • The State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program is a $60 million formula grant program for states, territories, and Tribal governments to develop digital equity plans. The application window closed on July 12, 2022, with all 52 eligible Digital Equity applicants submitting applications for Digital Equity Planning Funds. Additionally, the four eligible territories and 467 Tribes, 81 percent of all federally recognized Tribes from 29 states submitted LOI for Digital Equity planning funds.
  • The State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program is a $1.44 billion formula grant program for states, territories, and Tribal governments. It will fund an annual grant program for five years in support of digital equity projects and the implementation of State Digital Equity Plans. These funds will be allocated based on the formula provided in the Digital Equity Act and used to implement the plans developed through the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program.
  • The Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program is a $1.25 billion grant program that will fund annual grant programs for five years. This program will develop and implement digital inclusion activities and Digital Equity projects. The program is open to certain entities, such as political subdivisions of states, Tribal entities, nonprofits, community anchor institutions, local educational agencies, and workforce development organizations. OICG expects to release the Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Digital Equity Competitive Grants in 2024, after awarding the first State Digital Equity Capacity Grant.

On March 1, 2023, NTIA sought public comment on the design and implementation of the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. The deadline for submissions was May 1, 2023.

In 2022, OICG provided 62 technical assistance events and resources, held, ten Digital Equity Leaders Network events and webinars, and released $53 million in Digital Equity Planning Funds.

Enabling Middle Mile Infrastructure Program

The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program provides $1 billion to expand middle-mile internet infrastructure and reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas. The Middle Mile Program is key to increasing the resilience of internet infrastructure by promoting the creation of alternate network connection paths designed to prevent single-point broadband network failures. The Middle Mile team used OICG’s notable virtual presence to reach as many stakeholders as possible, hosting 12 office hours with 1,547 people and organizations. 

OICG received over 235 applications requesting more than $5.5 billion for the program. NTIA will complete the review and selection so that rolling award announcements can be made in 2023.

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) is a $3 billion grant program directed to Tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on Tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. 

The TBCP was created by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 as a $1 billion program. In the initial application window, OICG received over 300 applications requesting over $5 billion from the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. In recognition of the overwhelming need shown by TBCP applications, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $2 billion in additional funding. 

In 2022, OICG awarded 132 grants totaling $1.73 billion. These awards, once complete, will connect approximately 142,000 Tribal households and 1,680 anchor institutions. The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program continues to announce additional awards on a rolling basis. In 2023, OICG expects to release an additional Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Notice of Funding Opportunity to distribute the remaining $1 billion in IIJA funds.

Broadband Infrastructure Program

The Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) is a $300 million broadband deployment program that supports broadband infrastructure deployment in areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. What sets the Broadband Infrastructure Program apart from other federal funding initiatives is its focus on "covered partnerships" as recipients of its funding–that is, a public-private partnership between a state or subdivision(s) of a state and a provider of fixed broadband service.

The application window for this program closed in August 2021, with more than 275 applications requesting over $2.8 billion in grants. NTIA granted 13 BIP awards in February 2022 and one in June 2022, totaling $288 million in funding. The 14 awards allocated the entirety of the grant funds from this program. Construction on these projects is underway, with more than 140,000 unserved households expected to be connected.

Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program

The Connecting Minority Communities (CMC) Pilot Program is a $285 million grant program available to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) for the purchase of broadband internet service, eligible equipment, and the hiring and training of information technology (IT) personnel. 

In 2022, NTIA awarded 19 Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program grants totaling over $51.99 million. In 2022, NTIA continued to review the more than 200 applications received during the application window, which closed in December 2021. Additional awards were announced on a rolling basis. 

Some CMC Program awardees include:

Leveraging Data for Decision Making

Expanding high-speed internet access requires aggregating robust data sets that enable the OICG to effectively make inclusive and equitable program management decisions. OICG collaborates with public stakeholders–FCC, NTIA, and the Census–as well as private sources–M-Lab, Ookla, and Microsoft–to gather and distribute data on broadband access in the US and federal efforts to close the digital divide.

Interagency Agreement to Share and Collaborate on Data

In a measure to prevent duplication of funding and support interagency collaboration, NTIA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on May 12, 2022 to govern the exchange of broadband data. In 2022, NTIA, FCC, USDA, and Treasury held 24 scheduled meetings.

The agencies consult with one another regularly and share data collected from programs administered by the FCC, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, NTIA, and Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. 

NTIA Internet Use Survey

For nearly 30 years, the NTIA Internet Use Survey has provided valuable data to policymakers about the state of the internet and technology device use in the United States. Many researchers, advocates, and stakeholders also use the survey to better inform their work. The 2021 Internet Use Survey, released in May 2022, represents the first comprehensive federal data on the evolution of internet usage in America since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major findings from the 2021 Internet Use Survey include:

  • Overall, 69 percent of Americans lived in a household with both fixed and mobile internet services, compared with 67 percent in 2019 and 65 percent in 2017.
  • 34 percent of people in households with family incomes under $25,000 per year had no internet service subscriptions at all In 2017, compared with 26 percent in 2021.
  • Internet use among White non-Hispanics was unchanged at 82 percent from 2019 to 2021, but increased from 75 percent to 77 percent during this period among both African Americans and Hispanics.
  • One of the largest changes was in the use of smart TVs and TV-connected devices, which increased from 41 percent of Americans in 2019 to 48 percent in 2021.

The NTIA Data Explorer, a clearinghouse of survey data, enables easy tracking of metrics and helps guide important policy choices related to digital equity and other priorities. 

Indicators of Broadband Need Map

In 2021, NTIA released the Indicators of Broadband Need Map, which displays key measures of broadband needs across the country. The publicly available map compiles data from both public and private sources on one easy-to-understand interface. It aggregates data at the county, census tract, and census block level from the U.S. Census Bureau, the FCC, M-Lab, Ookla, and Microsoft. Speed-test data provided by M-Lab and Ookla help illustrate the reality that communities experience when going online, with many parts of the country reporting speeds that fall below the FCC’s current benchmark for fixed broadband service of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

The map also puts poverty and lack of broadband access on the same page. The dataset allows you to see where high-poverty communities are located and how that relates to internet usage patterns, as well as to a lack of computers and related equipment. The map also shows usage patterns in tribal communities, which have historically suffered from a lack of internet access. Users can toggle the separate data sets on and off to compare information and search for specific locations, including Tribal lands and minority-serving institutions, to gain a better understanding of where broadband needs are greatest.

The National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM)

NTIA offers a mapping platform called the National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM) to state governments and federal partners. This platform provides more complex tools for analyzing broadband access, such as uploading geographic files to compare proposed projects and allowing states and others to better inform broadband projects and funding decisions. The NBAM includes data from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Economic Development Administration, the Minority Business Development Agency, the Census, USDA, FCC, Treasury, Ookla, M-Lab, the Northern Border Regional Commission, BroadbandNow, White Star, and state governments. Users, including administrators from 39 participating states, three territories, and eight federal agencies, access the NBAM mapping platform and use these data resources to better inform broadband projects and funding decisions.

FCC Broadband Funding Map

The IIJA directs the FCC to develop “an online mapping tool to provide a locations overview of the overall geographic footprint of each broadband infrastructure deployment project funded by the Federal Government.” The FCC’s Broadband Funding Map will be “the centralized, authoritative source of information on funding made available by the Federal Government for broadband infrastructure deployment in the United States.”

Over the past year, OICG provided input to the FCC to assist in the development of this resource, including advising on the necessary functionality, data elements, and processes. In its interagency coordination role, OICG also facilitated meetings between the FCC and other government agencies that fund broadband infrastructure to provide similar input.

U.S. Census Bureau’s Digital Equity Act Population Viewer

NTIA works with the Census and its data to better inform digital equity funding programs. Census released the Digital Equity Act Population Viewer, an interactive collection of maps that highlight various demographics and broadband internet availability and adoption by state. The Population Viewer shows the size of Digital Equity Act-defined covered populations in each state, alongside the percentage of the population lacking fixed broadband, lacking computer and/or broadband subscription, those not using the internet, and those not using a device. The map also provides additional information about each of the eight covered populations. 

The eight covered populations are individuals who live in covered households; aging individuals (60 or above); incarcerated individuals; veterans; individuals with disabilities, individuals with a language barrier; Individuals who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group; and individuals who primarily reside in a rural area.

Facilitating Interagency and Stakeholder Coordination to Build Community Capacity

OICG leads NTIA’s collaboration efforts across Federal agencies and with external stakeholders to coordinate initiatives that increase access to high-speed internet across the country. OICG works with the Federal Funding Workstream, State Broadband Leaders Network, Digital Equity Leaders Network, Tribal nations, industry, and local governments to provide support, technical assistance, and expertise as it works to close the digital divide.

Federal Funding Workstream Meetings

Federal Funding Workstream meetings provide Federal agencies a forum to share information on their broadband efforts and programs. Co-chaired by NTIA and USDA, these meetings promote coordination across the Federal government on broadband deployment and digital inclusion efforts. In 2022, OICG hosted 25 Federal Funding Workstream meetings, with 26 agencies participating and receiving follow-up materials after the call. 

State Broadband Leaders Network

The State Broadband Leaders Network (SBLN) is a community of practitioners who work on increasing broadband deployment and access at the state level. OICG coordinates the group and convenes participants to share priorities and best practices, discuss emerging telecommunications policy issues, link states and local jurisdictions to federal agencies and funding sources, and address barriers to collaboration across states and agencies. Through 2022, OICG held 20 meetings (virtually and in-person). These meetings included representatives from all 56 eligible states and territories and the newly hired NTIA Federal Program Officers (FPO) participating in the meetings and summits.

Digital Equity Leaders Network

The Digital Equity Leaders Network (DELN) is a community of practitioners focused on increasing digital equity, digital inclusion, and access at the local, county, state, regional, and community levels. Participants include staff from local, regional, and state digital equity and broadband offices. DELN provides a monthly forum to strengthen policy and program connections among local and state jurisdictions and federal agencies to improve funding coordination, align policies, and strengthen collaboration across stakeholders. In 2022, the Digital Equity Leaders Network hosted 10 virtual meetings representing 90 local, regional, and state governments.

Tribal Broadband Leaders Network

The Tribal Broadband Leaders Network (TBLN) is a community of practitioners dedicated to expanding connectivity on Tribal lands. More than 130 participants, representing more than 70 Tribes and Tribal Entities, attended the first network meeting on October 13, 2022. The Tribal Broadband Leaders Network will allow NTIA to receive ongoing feedback on the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) while connecting Tribal leaders across the country to share priorities and best practices, discuss emerging telecommunications policy issues, and identify engagement strategies with state broadband leaders. Additionally, in August 2022, NTIA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) announced an agreement to coordinate responsibilities to deploy high-speed internet service quickly and safeguard Native lands and interests. Given the BIA’s role in the permitting processes and as the executive branch’s intermediary with Tribal entities, NTIA and BIA meet regularly to ensure effective coordination.

Industry Engagement

OICG is working with industry and American manufacturers to prepare the domestic manufacturing supply chain for the required fiber, electronics, and equipment needed
for broadband infrastructure deployment. In 2022, NTIA began work to secure commitments from the industry to build needed manufacturing capacity, holding 14 supply chain industry engagement events. OICG also coordinates with the Office of Management and Budget to provide a streamlined process of informational support to industry-critical suppliers. A key priority in the planning and post-grant phase is assessing manufacturing capacity risks and building manufacturing capacity to ensure equitable access in areas of need.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

May 22—Indigenous Connectivity Summit 2023 (Connect Humanity)

May 23––Digital Skills and Workforce Development (NTIA)

May 25—The Intersection of Research & Education Networks and Sustainable Digital Equity Initiatives (Marconi Society)

June 5—RightsCon Costa Rica (AccessNow)

June 5—UTC Telecom & Technology Conference (Utilities Technology Council)

June 8—June 2023 Open FCC Meeting

June 26—Smart Rural Community (NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association)

July 12––State Digital Equity Plans (NTIA)

August 20––Fiber Connect 2023 (Fiber Broadband Association)

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
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