What Did NTIA's Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth Accomplish in 2023?

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Digital Beat

What Did NTIA's Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth Accomplish in 2023?

Congress included the ACCESS BROADBAND Act in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and established the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). On April 30, OICG released its annual report detailing the office's work for 2023. OICG administers broadband programs created by both the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

The Four Pillars

Four interconnected core pillars drive OICG’s initiatives, strategy, and key accomplishments:

1. Fund Broadband Infrastructure and Digital Inclusion Efforts

OICG funds broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion efforts to empower a variety of stakeholders including states, territories, Tribes, unserved and underserved populations, community anchor institutions, and service providers to invest directly in their communities. These funds support tailored approaches to provide infrastructure and access to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service. The funds also support digital inclusion projects and the tools and resources needed for full participation in our 21st century economy and society. OICG also provides eligible entities and subgrantees with technical assistance that supports their participation in NTIA broadband grant programs and success in awarded grant applications. These technical assistance resources include tools, materials, one-to-one and one-to-many direct support, and public-facing tools and resources.

2. Leverage Data for Decision-making

Using an inclusive and data-driven method, OICG devotes significant resources to ensure that federal dollars are invested wisely. This approach is especially important to ensure adequate investment in unserved and underserved areas. OICG works directly with federal and state partners to coordinate interagency activities and to obtain and share data for grant awards and pending application areas (as appropriate) in common mapping tools, including the Federal Communications Commission's Broadband Funding Map. These mapping efforts allow federal agencies to identify potential areas of duplication and make informed funding decisions.

3. Facilitate Interagency, State, Tribal, and Private Sector Coordination

OICG coordinates efforts amongst federal agencies, states, Tribes, and the private sector through information sharing to enhance the availability, adoption, and use of high-speed Internet service. These facilitated interactions can lead to more accurate understandings of where unserved and underserved communities are and how to overcome digital divide barriers in those communities. This coordination is central to a holistic deployment of federal and private resources that address connection deficiencies and close the digital divide.

4. Build Capacity of Communities

OICG builds the capacity of communities through outreach and communications efforts, including holding regional workshops and local coordination events, publishing tools and guides on effective strategies to expand broadband access and digital equity, and convening stakeholders. OICG continues to provide support to different communities of stakeholders to promote impactful and efficient education and knowledge sharing.

OICG facilitates several cohort groups including the Federal Funding Workstream (FFWS), the State Broadband Leaders Network (SBLN), the Digital Equity Leaders Network (DELN), the Connecting Minority Communities Learning Network (CMC-LN), and the Tribal Broadband Leaders Network (TBLN).

OICG also develops technical assistance and informational resources and leads outreach efforts to assist states, territories, and Tribal governments with developing plans to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service for all.

OICG Funding Programs

OICG oversees $49.7 billion for broadband funding.

Congress set aside over $1.5 billion in funding for three broadband grant programs through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP): Congress initially appropriated $1 billion to establish this grant program aimed at improving broadband connectivity on Tribal lands throughout the country.

Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP): Congress established a $300 million broadband deployment grant program at NTIA to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. 

Connecting Minority Communities (CMC) Pilot Program: A $268 million grant program to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) for the purchase of broadband internet access service and eligible equipment or to hire and train information technology personnel.

Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress added $48.2 billion to OICG's portfolio:

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program provides $42.45 billion—to be distributed among states, territories, DC, and Puerto Rico—for projects that support broadband infrastructure deployment and adoption. 

  • In June of 2023, NTIA announced allocations for all 56 states and territories. Program rules required states and territories to submit Initial Proposals describing how they propose to engage with their communities and subgrant funds to address the unserved and underserved locations by December 27, 2023. All 56 Eligible Entities met this deadline, and their proposals will be reviewed for approval through 2024.
  • On November 1, 2023, NTIA released a programmatic waiver that modifies the requirement of an irrevocable standby Letter of Credit (LOC). This waiver promotes inclusivity by encouraging competition among Internet service providers of all sizes and allows credit unions to issue LOCs, permits the use of performance bonds as an alternative to LOCs, and provides flexibility in reducing the LOC requirement over time to address concerns and promote broader participation in the BEAD program.

Digital Equity Act Programs are providing $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs—State Digital Equity Planning Grants, Digital Equity Capacity Grants, and Digital Equity Competitive Grants—that promote digital equity and inclusion. The programs aim to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy.

  • On June 2, 2023, NTIA issued a Request for Comment (RFC) for the public and other federal agencies to add 65 questions to the November 2023 edition of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). This collection of questions is known as the NTIA Internet Use Survey and is referred to as the CPS Computer and Internet Use Supplement. Data from the NTIA Internet Use Survey informs policies aimed at achieving digital equity so that the Internet’s benefits are accessible to everyone in America.
  • On March 2, 2023, NTIA issued an RFC that sought broad input and feedback from interested stakeholders on the Digital Equity Act Programs. NTIA specifically solicited comments on the design and implementation of two components of that grant program: the $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the $1.25 billion Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. Through the RFC process, NTIA received more than 250 submissions reflecting the voices of more than 400 stakeholders.

Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure (Middle Mile) Program provides funding for the expansion and extension of middle mile infrastructure across U.S. states and territories. In total, the program allocated $980 million to fund projects for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure covering more than 370 counties across 40 states and Puerto Rico in 2023. The ultimate purpose of this funding is to expand and strengthen U.S. high-speed Internet networks by reducing the cost of connecting areas that are unserved or underserved to the Internet backbone.

Congress also provided an additional $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Grants are used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. 

In 2023, NTIA developed a program evaluation framework for the BEAD, Digital Equity and Middle Mile Programs. The program evaluation strategy builds on a logic model, conceptual framework, evidence review, and dashboard of economic indicators developed in response to the ACCESS BROADBAND Act and presented in Federal Broadband Funding Reports. This body of work identifies the metrics and methods used in research and practice to evaluate the economic impacts of broadband expansion over the last two decades. OICG also relies on feedback from the March 2023 RFC which presented a specific series of questions focused on program measurement, evaluation and reporting that received over 230 comments.

Informed by the ACCESS BROADBAND Act work and feedback from the RFC, OICG is identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) across broadband access, affordability, equity, adoption, and sustainability for broadband programs. These KPIs will help assess desired outcomes and impacts over a program’s period of performance across categories that include, but are not limited to, digital equity and inclusion, economic and workforce development, education, healthcare, civic and social engagement, and delivery of other essential services.

Interagency Coordination

The Consolidated Appropriations Act also included the Broadband Interagency Coordination Act, which:

  • requires the FCC, the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service, and NTIA to enter into an interagency agreement requiring coordination and information sharing between the agencies regarding the distribution of funds for broadband deployment; 
  • designates the FCC as the entity primarily responsible for coordinating information sharing among the agencies and storing and maintaining access to broadband deployment data; and
  • directs the FCC to seek public comment on the effectiveness of the agreement, with a report to Congress on those comments.

In 2023, OICG staff led the federal government’s interagency coordination efforts to promote a whole-of-government approach to connect everyone to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet; align on common policies and practices; and fulfill statutory coordination activities.

  • NTIA, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of the Treasury, and the FCC met regularly under the interagency coordination Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) signed in 2021 and 2022.
  • NTIA led the development of a standard high-level deduplication process across projects funded by the parties to the MOU, and continues its policy of information sharing to assist in the most effective deployment of federal broadband dollars.
  • NTIA also coordinated with FCC on the development of the Broadband Funding Map to reduce or prevent duplication of federal funding. This map supports BEAD and other federal funding programs by providing a public-facing tool that overlays information about federal funding commitments to deploy broadband services onto the broadband availability data being collected as part of the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection.

Coming Soon: 2023 Federal Broadband Funding Report

The OICG annual report is usually quickly followed by the Federal Broadband Report, which highlights investments in federal broadband and Universal Service Fund (USF) programs. The report summarizes the federal broadband investment landscape, outlines the current state of measuring investments and connection across federal broadband and USF programs, provides recommendations to improve efforts to track broadband spending and outcomes, and provides a framework for analysis of economic impact.

OICG began development of the forthcoming 2023 report in coordination with 12 federal agencies covering over 68 programs that funded broadband. The 2023 report should be released soon.

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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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