Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, BEAD supercharge US digital equity efforts

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Across the country, broadband advocates and representatives are crunching numbers to figure out how to implement an often under-examined piece of the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program puzzle: What does digital equity look like? Passed alongside BEAD as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Digital Equity Act (DEA) provides $2.75 billion dollars that will be parsed between states and territories to help them implement digital equity plans. Right now, states have either been awarded or are waiting to receive their share of $60 million dollars in initial equity planning grants. With them, they can map out how they’re going to put DEA’s upcoming competitive funding to use. Due to its malleability, digital equity can feel like a slippery term in practice. But to Kathryn de Wit, project director for the Broadband Access Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts, there are arguably four elements to digital equity: a quality internet connection, affordability, access to devices, and digital literacy. No two states are going to be exactly alike in their DEA or BEAD planning efforts. De Wit has noticed DEA allotments falling into three distinct buckets: staffing broadband offices, building technical capacity through community partnerships, and launching initiatives, like digital navigator programs, to help get people signed up for Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) benefits.

IIJA, BEAD supercharge US digital equity efforts