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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Bonus Episode
This is the transcript for a bonus episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. On this episode, we feature a National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) webinar on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that recently passed in Congress. Listen to the podcast here or read the transcript below.
Maren Machles: Hey, it's Maren from the Community Broadband Networks Team. We decided to drop this webinar from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance into our feed because it offers a great explanation of what's happening with broadband investment from the infrastructure bill. We have a link to the slides and more information from NDIA on the show page. We hope you find it useful.
Amy Huffman: Well, hello. Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our webinar on Digital Equity in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. We're super excited for you to be here today.
Amy Huffman: My name, for those of you who I have not met yet, is Amy Huffman. I'm the Policy Director for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and would love to know a little bit about you. So please put your name, your organization, and where you're based in the chat, and we'll get to know each other. I'm based in the great state of North Carolina, in Durham. But I'm a Tar Heel. So go Heels. All right.
Amy Huffman: So we are ... Oh. Yeah, there we go. NDIA, we got started about seven years ago to represent you all, the folks doing the real digital inclusion work on the ground, making sure people have computers and an affordable Internet connection and access to digital skills learning and classes where people can upskill their skills and really be competitive in today's environment.
Amy Huffman: Today we have over 600 affiliates in 46 states. You all, it's almost the whole country. So we're thrilled that you're here and a part of our community, our ever-growing community.
Amy Huffman: We do a few things. First of all, we do this, which is the biggest thing that we do, which we call practitioner support, or really we operate as a peer-to-peer network where we learn from each other. We gather the best minds in the country on this issue together to learn from each other best practices, policies, and things of that nature.
Amy Huffman: We also do do policy work. So that's what we're here to learn about today is the digital equity portions in the infrastructure investment jobs act. But we also take what we learn from you all and influence policymakers. So a lot of what ended up in this act and which is so exciting that we'll talk about today is because of you and the work that you've been doing for decades now.
Amy Huffman: Then we do awareness about the issue. What is digital inclusion? What is digital equity? More and more we're doing like, "Okay. Well, how do you actually do digital inclusion?" like not just why it's important anymore, but how do we do it and do it well. Policymakers really need to know that, as do folks across the country.
Amy Huffman: Then we do some data and research. Probably the things you're most familiar with are our digital redlining report that Bill Callahan led, really unpacked what digital redlining is. Actually some of that work that he did preceded what ended up in the IIJA.
Amy Huffman: Okay. So we've got a lot to cover. I will do my best not to get in the weeds and not to use too many acronyms. Please keep me honest. But first we'll go through an overview of the IIJA. I will use an acronym there just because otherwise I will be saying Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 5,000 times. No one wants to hear me stumble over that.
Amy Huffman: Within the IIJA, there's specific portions that we're going to look at today. We're not going to do a comprehensive overview, but we are going to look at some main portions that we think will impact you and your work a lot in the coming years. You heard me right. I said years.
Amy Huffman: So first the Digital Equity Act, second, the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program or BEAD, and then, third, the Affordable Connectivity Program. Then we hope to leave plenty of time for Q&A. So if you hear me rushing through this information, it's because I really want to get to the meat of this discussion and have a real discussion with you all.
Amy Huffman: Okay, so the IIJA. So, first of all, it's an act. It's not a bill anymore. Hooray. This is the point in time we do a little happy dance. Yes, it was the longest six-month nightmare that I've ever been involved in. It wasn't a nightmare. It was a dream. But, really, if you think about it, this act, at least the broadband portion, really is years in the making, if not a decade in making.
Amy Huffman: And so, what we're going to talk about is some of these things that we've been advocating for for years actually ended up in this act. So the way it works is within the ... So there's the whole act that addresses things like railroads, airports, roads, all sorts of infrastructure, $3 trillion.
Amy Huffman: Within the act, there's a set aside portion for broadband. That's $65 billion for broadband and broadband-related things. Within the broadband section, there's individual pots of funding for individual programs. So we're going to get more into what those individual programs are within the broadband section of the full act.
Amy Huffman: So within the broadband section, there's the Digital Equity Act, which we're quite thrilled about. There's $2.75 billion set aside for that. Then the bulk of the broadband section, or $42.5 billion of it, is going to increase access to unserved and underserved locations primarily throughout the country. That's called the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, or BEAD. If you hear me say BEAD, that's what I'm referring to.
Amy Huffman: Then we have the Affordable Connectivity Program. There's $14.2 billion for that. There's $2 billion for Tribal Connectivity Program. We won't talk about that today. But that's a continuation of the program that was set up under the Consolidated Appropriations Act. There's a billion for middle-mile connectivity, which, again, we won't talk about today. But if you're interested, I'm sure there's lots of information out there, particularly from our friends at Benton that you could learn more about that program from.
Amy Huffman: Then there's the digital discrimination section, which, again, we're not going to into much detail about today. But this is the digital redlining section. What it does is Congress is telling the Federal Communications Commission, "Hey, there's a problem, that we've recognized that some providers are discriminating against some certain classes of individuals, and we'd like you, Federal Communications Commission, to make some rules about that and make sure that it doesn't happen again."
Amy Huffman: So that's what that section is about. There's no funding tied to it, but it's a rule-making section, making sure that the FCC makes rules around digital redlining or digital discrimination.
Amy Huffman: So the Digital Equity Act. So the first thing to know, before we even get into the definitions, about the Digital Equity Act and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program or the BEAD Program, is that Congress and the President are both in this language and these acts and in these programs. They're stepping back and they're recognizing that the federal government isn't the entity that should be doing digital inclusion.
Amy Huffman: So they are recognizing that states and local governments and community-based organizations and practitioners and folks like you, who already are embedded in your communities, are the trusted resources in your communities, that you all are the best ones to do digital inclusion. That's a big win right there, that alone. You'll see that that ethos has made its way throughout both the Digital Equity Act and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program.
Amy Huffman: So the first thing to know about the Digital Equity Act is it actually uses and codifies two definitions that are very near and dear to our hearts because you all, our community, helped us create them when we got started nearly seven years ago. Those are digital equity and digital inclusion.
Amy Huffman: So if you haven't heard these terms before, digital equity is our goal. It's what we're trying to achieve. We want to make sure that we live in a nation where every individual and community has the capacity for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Then digital inclusion is how we get there. Digital inclusion are the programs, the policies, and the tools that help us achieve a digitally equitable state.
Amy Huffman: So in the Digital Equity Act, there are two programs and three grant funds. The two programs are the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. So I'm going to break both of those down for us. First, we're going to talk about the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program.
Amy Huffman: So this is a program for states to do digital equity work. It's split into two grants: planning grants and capacity grants. Planning grants are what they sound like. They help states create digital equity plans that gives funding to the states to do that. Then the capacity grants are also what they sound like. They are for the states to implement those plans.
Amy Huffman: There's $1.5 billion total for the section of the act, $60 million for the state planning grants, so a little over a million dollars per state, and $1.44 billion for the capacity grants. So in other words, there's $60 million to help the states create the plans and $1.44 billion to help them implement those plans.
Amy Huffman: This is a lot of words, and I'm going to break it down for you. The administrator for this program is going to be the National Telecommunications and Information Administration or NTIA. They are housed at the US Department of Commerce.
Amy Huffman: Some of you might remember them. They were the administrators for the BTOP awards way back a decade ago. The eligible entity ... So what will happen is the governors, or an equivalent office, in each state will determine who is going to be the administering entity for these state programs and grants. They can select an entity from this list that you see here on the screen. I'm not going to go through them all. Then that entity will essentially be in charge of the planning and the administering of the implementation awards after they do the plans.
Amy Huffman: So if you think it through, that entity will basically be the de facto digital equity lead for that state for the next five-plus years. We don't know, of course, and every state can choose, but we expect that most governors' offices will select their broadband offices for this role. But that is, of course, up to the governors and we'll see what happens.
Amy Huffman: The capacity grants, there's a formula here that shows how those are going to be allocated, if you're interested in that. Within the planning section of the act, Congress is asking states to really hone in on and make sure that their plans and then subsequently their programs and how they implement and attack this digital divide are really focused in on the populations who suffer from the digital divide most.
Amy Huffman: And so, they've outlined these folks as what they call covered populations. Really, it's the folks that you already serve. It's the vulnerable populations. It's seniors, individuals with disabilities, low-income households, individuals with language barriers, individual with better minority or members of a racial or ethnic minority group, even individuals who primarily reside in rural areas.
Amy Huffman: What Congress does is they say, "As you're building these plans, states, we want you to keep these covered populations in mind. We want you to look at data about what barriers these specific populations face in achieving digital equity."
Amy Huffman: They also outline several other things that they want to see end up in plans. After the states figure out who or what are the barriers for these covered populations, they want states to figure out, okay, what objectives do you have and how are you going to achieve those objectives? They specifically outline those objectives around the main legs of digital inclusion. I didn't write them out here because the way they write it is really long and would take up way too many words on a slide. But we have that information if you're interested. It's also in the language and the act.
Amy Huffman: But basically they want states to create measurable objectives for documenting and promoting various digital inclusion activities that will advance the covered population's pursuit of digital equity, and closing of those barriers. They then want states to, okay, so first they identify barriers, create objectives for closing those barriers, then they want states to then assess how these objectives that they've outlined will impact the other areas that the states are already in charge of. So economic development, workforce development, health outcomes, et cetera.
Amy Huffman: So they want the states to think holistically about how what they're doing around digital equity will help them achieve their other goals, because, remember, digital equity impacts all of the different industries and different aspects of a person's life.
Amy Huffman: Then they want the state to describe how the state plans to collaborate with key stakeholders. They also want the state to list out the various organizations that it collaborated with on developing the plan, and also how it plans to work with those organizations in implementing the plan, which will be very important for all of you.
Amy Huffman: So what we know in terms of timeline for the State Digital Equity Capacity Program. We anticipate that NTIA will soon open up a request for comments on building the program. We also anticipate, based on the language within the act and in the appropriation section of the act, that within 180 days that NTIA will release a notice of funding opportunity where it's basically the grants application, or NOFO, for the planning portion of these grants.
Amy Huffman: States will then have 60 days to apply before receiving a planning grant award. Then they'll have 12 months to develop those plans. Then capacity grants would be available for implementation after that.
Amy Huffman: All right. So now we're going to switch over to the second program that's outlined in the Digital Equity Act, which is the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. There's $1.25 billion set aside for this portion of the act, or this program specifically. It's split over five years, fiscal years, $250 million per fiscal year.
Amy Huffman: Again, the program administrator will be the NTIA, but eligible grantees are ... The list is actually quite long. It's not just states. Actually, the entity that's administering the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, that specific entity will not be eligible for these awards, because they don't want that entity that's already getting the funding from the other part of the program to come and get the funding for this.
Amy Huffman: So political subdivisions are eligible, foundations, corporations, institutions that aren't a school, local education authorities, community anchor institutions, a partnership of any of these types of entities, and public housing. All sorts of groups are eligible for this.
Amy Huffman: The use of funds is quite broad. It's digital inclusion activities. It could be digital literacy classes. It could be equipment, so computers and devices. It could be setting up public access locations or gap networks. It could be digital navigator programs. It could be a whole host of things, and we are so excited to see what you all come up with. We hope there's a lot of innovative programs that really meet the needs of different constituents across the country that come out of this program.
Amy Huffman: This timeline's a little iffy. I almost wanted to put a bunch of question marks here, because we're just not really sure what the timeline's going to look like on this. But I'm going to do my best based on what's in the language of the act.
Amy Huffman: So we do anticipate a request for comments. We'll open up soon-ish. It says in the act not later than 30 days after the capacity grants, which are the implementation grants for states. After they go out, and not before, the assistant secretary, which is the assistant secretary of commerce, shall establish the competitive grant program.
Amy Huffman: So in other words, it can't be later than 30 days after the initial round of capacity grants go out. So we'll see what NTIA does with this language as they're developing these programs.
Amy Huffman: We're not entirely sure when this notice of funding opportunity will come open. Basically, application window, we don't know a specific application window, but eligible grantees must submit applications when they come open. So that's what we know.
Amy Huffman: I know this is a lot, but for this portion of the Digital Equity Act, what I can say is this funding's not going to be available tomorrow. It's not going to be available January 1st. We're looking more end of 2022, sometime in 2023.
Amy Huffman: So if you need funding ... I'm just going to go ahead and say this now, and I'm sure I'll say it again later, if you need funding for your digital inclusion activities now, we'd recommend that you look to other opportunities like the ARPA funds that may still be available from your state or local governments, or the American Rescue Plan Act funding, or other sources of funding.
Amy Huffman: The IIJA funds and all of these portions within the broadband section are intended to be long-term programs, and programs that begin, not quite finished but begin, getting at our systems and becoming more systemic and sustainable.
Amy Huffman: All right, so we're going to move over to the deployment section of the act or the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program. This program is basically block grants to states. It's for broadband infrastructure deployment and other digital inclusion activities. The NTIA will also be administering this program and its total, it's $42.42 billion. Each state will get a minimum of a hundred million, and then there's a complicated formula for determining how much additional funding they get to that hundred million.
Amy Huffman: States, DC, Puerto Rico, and these other territories, American Samoa, Guam, US Virgin Islands, and Northern Marianna Islands are the ones that are eligible for this program. So I shouldn't just say states. I should say states, DC, and other territories.
Amy Huffman: Then what it will do is states will have these block grants. Then they will sub-award out the funding to entities to actually deliver the broadband service to households. Those entities, those sub-grantees, they can be cooperative.
Amy Huffman: So if some of you might have telephone member cooperatives in your states or electric membership cooperatives, it can be those folks. It could be nonprofit organizations. It could be public-private partnerships. It can be private companies like the traditional Internet Service Providers that we all know. It could be public or private utilities, public utility districts, and/or local governments. So some of you have municipal governments in your communities already that do deliver broadband service. So they would be eligible for these funds as well.
Amy Huffman: The use of funds is actually not just deployment. So they can be used for broadband infrastructure deployment, connecting eligible community anchor institutions, so libraries, schools, healthcare institutions, et cetera. It can be used for data collection, broadband mapping, and planning. We hear a lot, "Well, what money can I use for mapping or planning?" This money.
Amy Huffman: It can also be used for installing Internet and Wi-Fi infrastructure, or providing reduced-cost broadband within multifamily residential buildings, so public housing. Then also can be used for broadband adoption, which includes programs to provide affordable Internet-capable devices.
Amy Huffman: So to highlight, to pull out specifically what states can do with these funds that are related to digital inclusion. So that deployment to multifamily buildings and promotion of broadband adoption is really important and key that states can do that. And so, we want them to do that. We don't want them to spend all their money on rural access. We want them to use the money for both ends.
Amy Huffman: Grant recipients or the ISPs or the subrecipients, they must offer low cost or affordable plan for consumers. So subrecipient or sub-awardee for the grants that is going to deploy infrastructure using these grant funds has to have a low-cost offer. So sometimes these take the form of their $19.99 a month for service for low-income households, that they will be required to offer those as part of this program.
Amy Huffman: The timeline, similar to the Digital Equity Act, there's still a lot we don't know. But what we do know is that the request for comments will open soon and that the act does require that the notice of funding opportunity, or, as you might hear, the NOFO, that it opened within 180 days of the act's passing.
Amy Huffman: After the NOFO goes out, states will submit letters of intent to NTIA. NTIA will then release a portion of the planning funds to states. States will then have to come up with a five-year action plan that they submit to NTIA. Then they will be waiting for the FCC to release what's called the broadband data maps. The FCC was required to create these maps under one of the other recovery acts that came out last year.
Amy Huffman: Once those new maps are available, then states will be required to submit an initial proposal to NTIA, and they'll get 20% of their funds, so their first tranche of funding. Then later on, they'll submit a final proposal and receive the rest of their funds.
Amy Huffman: I know that's a lot. It's an elongated timeline. But basically just know it's a multi-step, multi-year process for states to receive all the funds. I think part of this is NTIA's recognition that there's a lot of other funding out ... Or Congress' recognition rather. There's a lot of other funding sources out there for deployment right now. And so, stacking it this way gives states the opportunity to make sure that they're planning well and mixing and matching things where appropriate.
Amy Huffman: Also, that portion where we're waiting on the maps, that can be frustrating that we're waiting on the maps. But remember that there's not really good data on where broadband's available to households right now. And so, waiting to have better data will end up resulting in better use of the funds. And so, that is why that's in there. Okay. Right, we are going to transition to our third and final program that we're going to talk about today, and that's Affordable Connectivity Program.
Amy Huffman: So the Affordable Connectivity Program is the continuation of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which is the program that was established by Congress under the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Originally, it was a $3.2 billion program. Now it's a $14.2 billion program. So Congress clearly and resoundingly and ... Oops ... in a bipartisan way said, "This program's important and we want to continue it."
Amy Huffman: It is not permanent, but it is on a path to a more permanent place than it was before. Let's just say we're not wringing our hands over the funds running out within six months like we were in anticipation of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
Amy Huffman: So the Federal Communications Commission was the entity that administered the EBB or Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. They will continue to be the program administrator for the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Amy Huffman: Notice that there's a name change. It went from Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to Affordable Connectivity Program, not American Connectivity Program, not Affordable Connectivity Fund, Affordable connectivity Program. Those are other things I've seen floating around about this program.
Amy Huffman: It did reduce the monthly rate. So there are a couple of changes that Congress made to the program when it transitioned. So one of those things is that it's reducing the monthly rate that consumers receive, which was $50 a month. It will be $30 a month going forward.
Amy Huffman: Under the Affordable Connectivity Program, now all plans that a provider offers will be mandated to be eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program. Under EBB, providers could choose to offer all plans. Not many of them did. Most of them set up a few offerings that were eligible for EBB. Now everything that they offer will have to be eligible.
Amy Huffman: Then there are a couple eligibility changes that I'll get into in a second. Oh, no, that was when I was supposed to get into them. Sorry.
Amy Huffman: It adds few additional ways that a household can be made eligible or qualify for the program. Those are it adds WIC as a way to be eligible. Then also it increases the federal poverty line from 135% to 200%. So previously you had to fall under 135% to qualify of the federal poverty line. Now it's 200% of the federal poverty line to qualify, which if you follow the math means more households would be eligible.
Amy Huffman: Some other notable changes to the program, or things to know, there's a 60-day grace period. So this program is supposed to go into effect at the end of this month, the end of December 2021. So December 31st. Congress wanted the FCC to get up and running quickly.
Amy Huffman: But so the households that are on EBB and receiving that $50 benefit, they have a 60-day grace period window to continue receiving that $50 subsidy. So they'll continue getting that subsidy for two months before their transition to the $30 subsidy.
Amy Huffman: In addition to adding two eligibility criteria, the act did drop two eligibility criteria. One was households who had a substantial loss of income due to the pandemic. The other was households who participated or already participated in an Internet Service Provider's COVID emergency plan. Some of the providers came out with these emergency plans in response to the pandemic.
Amy Huffman: So if you were a household who was already participating in that, you were automatically then eligible under EBB. Now that those plans have gone away, that criteria doesn't make sense. The FCC has told us that not many people enter the program through these two criteria.
Amy Huffman: Another notable change is that ISPs will not be allowed to use credit checks any longer. ISPs will ... It'll be required for them to participate in public awareness campaigns about the program. So they will be required to advertise the EBB to their consumers.
Amy Huffman: It also provides language and requires FCC to do additional outreach as well about the program to consumers. And it provides potentially a way to give you all additional support in doing outreach and engagement. It also establishes some new rules that will protect consumers that participate in the program.
Amy Huffman: Two notes about timing on this. I apologize, I realized I didn't have a slide. The way this is going to work is that the FCC opened up a public notice a few weeks ago, asking for comments on this transition of the program. Those comments are due tomorrow, December 8th. We have hosted a working group with several of you. Thank you for your participation and collaboration. We have been working on comments that we will submit to the FCC tomorrow. Others in other organizations across the public interest community are as well.
Amy Huffman: After the FCC receives those comments, they're going to review them and they'll open up a reply comment period on December 28th. They will move forward with the transition on December 31st. What they've told us and told our community on community calls is because of the rapid nature of this change and the change of programs overnight while also ...
Amy Huffman: They'll be basically still managing EBB program, the folks that are still in the grace period of that, while setting up the ACP Program. But the program that launches December 31st may not look the same two months later. In other words, they anticipate that they will be modifying the program or making the program better as they go. So just to give you that heads up.
Amy Huffman: If you are an entity that is working to sign up folks for EBB, we'd encourage you to continue to do that through the end of the year, since they will receive that increased rate of a benefit for two months. So a household who signs up for EBB on December 30th, they'll have two months with the $50 benefit. A household who signs up for the EBB on January 1st, they will immediately have the $30 benefit. So we'd encourage you to continue to sign folks up under the EBB.
Amy Huffman: All right, with that, I am going to stop blabbering. I'm also going to stop sharing my screen so I can see all of you better. We're going to open up Q&A.
Amy Huffman: So I think what we'll do ... I know there's a lot of questions in the chat. Angela, since you've been monitoring the chat, are there any questions that you haven't already answered that I can answer?
Angela Siefer: Yes. I'm also just going to throw some out to you that came up, that I think would be better verbal than what I was trying to quickly type in. So a little bit of confusion over administering entity. Amy, can you describe the difference between administering entity and eligible for the grants themselves?
Amy Huffman: [crosstalk 00:35:19] grants?
Angela Siefer: So administering entity being ... I'm sorry, Amy. Go ahead.
Amy Huffman: Which grants?
Angela Siefer: I'm sorry, the Digital Equity Act. So there was confusion that administering entity, that list then means that those are the organizations that are eligible to receive grant funds from the state or from NTIA from the Digital Equity Act.
Amy Huffman: Yeah, I think the confusion is actually on Congress, because I think they ended up using the same or a similar list of those entities that could be eligible for being the administering entity on behalf of the state. Then later on could also be eligible for receiving grants. So the confusion is legitimate. So I apologize for that. I should have said that before.
Amy Huffman: So what will happen, the administering entity is going to be the entity that the governor or the equivalent office selects to create the digital equity plan and implement the plan. And so, that entity ... Think of that entity as the coordinator for the state and the convener.
Amy Huffman: So Congress listed out a long list of potential organizations that could fill that spot, but we anticipate ... Because not every state is going to have a state broadband office, they listed a lot of folks. Not in every state is the broadband office the best place for this work. So that's why they listed a lot of entities that could be that. But we anticipate in most states it'll be the broadband office-
Angela Siefer: [crosstalk 00:37:07].
Amy Huffman: ... which means for the who's eligible for the grants, that entity will be the only one eligible for the state capacity grants or implementation grants. They then can and decide to sub-award that grant out to other entities across the state. Then for the competitive grants, that administering entity is not eligible for the competitive grants, but that other list of organizations is.
Angela Siefer: And so, in the list of who's eligible to be the administering entity, it says no schools. My memory is that schools can participate in the grants themselves. Is that your knowledge?
Amy Huffman: That's my memory too, but we'd need to double-check it. I think the list is maybe not one-to-one, but it's similar. And so, it looks very similar.
Angela Siefer: Okay. Then questions about the Affordable Connectivity Program, questions about devices and credit checks. Can you take those two?
Amy Huffman: So, yes, devices will continue to be part of the Affordable Connectivity Program. It's going to be the same hundred dollars that can go towards a device. Then credit checks are not permitted under the new program.
Angela Siefer: Great. Thank you. Just to repeat again, and we should probably put this on the listserv, is that this is being recorded and we're going to put it on the website. There will be slides attached and even, depending how fast Josh works, the FAQ from the chat could potentially be included in the blog post, maybe even later today, depending on how fast he is. So there's lots of interest in the slides. So know that we will get those to you onto the website as soon as we can.
Angela Siefer: Other questions that I saw in here, requirements for ... Maybe Amy talked just a little bit about the things we don't know and that we expect to come up, like any details about how long the grants will be and what will be required. Maybe just a few comments on what we don't know.
Amy Huffman: There's a lot we don't know. I think that's first and foremost. There's a lot we don't know. There's a lot for NTIA to decide in their rule-making process and a lot of detail to work out. For the BEAD grants, for the Digital Equity Act grants, and even there's a lot of detail for the FCC to work out in this transition. The FCC's public notice that they released two weeks ago, I swear had a thousand questions in it asking for comment on how to run this program well.
Amy Huffman: So there's a lot we don't know, a lot that will happen in the rule-making process. So for instance, in the Digital Equity Act, we don't know the term length of the grants. We don't know when they'll actually open up. We don't know what the application will look like.
Amy Huffman: We don't know how states will align the planning, or be required to align the planning. There's planning that's required under the BEAD program and there's planning that required under the Digital Equity Act. So how will those two plans be required to be aligned? We don't know that yet. So there's quite a bit we don't know.
Angela Siefer: Okay. Then talk a little bit about the possibility that the FCC could end up providing outreach grants to community-based efforts.
Amy Huffman: Yes. So we don't know about that yet either. But they were given the authority to do that in the act. The FCC was given the authority to create grants, to provide two community-based organizations and community anchor institutions to do outreach around the EBB or/and any additional programs, which would be the ACP.
Amy Huffman: They asked in the public notice about how best to do that. It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. They said, "We've never done anything like this before, and we don't really know how to do it. Can you give us some ideas about how to do this well?" And so, we are. We got some great ideas from our working group on what would be best. The answer is it's simple. No one wants to apply to really complicated grants from the federal government.
Amy Huffman: Importantly, in the act, FCC was not given actual funding, like a line item for these grants. They were just given the authority. So they may choose not to do this, but they could use their administration funds to do it. They were given funds to administer the program. In the public notice, they asked if they should use their administration funds for this, and we are saying resoundingly, "Yes, you definitely should," because we think that is the missing piece in the efficacy of this program.
Angela Siefer: Thank you. Question from Sarah. Sarah, please.
Sarah: Hey, everybody. Hi, Amy.
Amy Huffman: Hi, Sarah.
Sarah: I'm trying to get better clarity on this mapping thing. I've been in all these meetings about these broadband maps and these FCC maps and the updated maps. I just got off a meeting with an internal legal person about how we can challenge the maps.
Sarah: I mean we don't need to take up a whole bunch of time here, but how do I better understand how this mapping thing's working? Because obviously it has such a huge piece around our allocation. In a large municipality, for me to identify the unserved for IIJA BEAD money is going to be really challenging.
Sarah: And so, I don't know. I just am curious as to maybe just giving me some ideas of who I could talk to more about the real specificity about how the maps are working, how the updates are doing, how the challenges can be done, and then how the funding allocation is predicated on whatever the maps say.
Amy Huffman: So I will caveat this by saying I and we at NDIA are not the best people to answer this. But I'll give you-
Angela Siefer: We can say that's not our thing. We don't do-
Sarah: Yeah, that's fine. Maybe somebody could tell me who. Who could [crosstalk 00:43:57].
Angela Siefer: Yeah, so [crosstalk 00:43:57]. Amy might have a thought of who to talk to.
Amy Huffman: Yeah. So what I would say is, first, I think a lot of that detail that you're looking for, Sarah, that's what will come out in the NOFO. And so, NTIA is ... That's a big question. That's a big question mark of how they're going to require the use of these maps for their program. I would anticipate that the NOFO will answer some of those questions. That's just one of those big question marks that we don't know right now.
Amy Huffman: The second thing is the folks who can answer about the maps is the FCC. So they're the ones creating the maps. And so, I'd have to do some digging to figure out which bureau to talk to, but that's what I'd recommend. So I think-
Angela Siefer: There were a couple of items in the chat, too. So there might be some help for you in the chat. Question from Christine.
Christine: Hi all. Exciting times. Thank you, Amy, thank you, Angela, for hosting this. For those of us that have been around since BTOP or before, that was mentioned earlier, the Digital Equity Competitive Grant, which I was trying to clarify in the chat, Angela, it says that there's ... And then I think I gleaned from that that there's no specifics on that yet, and yet it's not going to go through states.
Christine: Those of us that have had funding, that have gone through states, and the delineation of ISPs and all the rest of the stuff, the competitive grant, when it comes about, how do you see that coming about? Where do you see that coming from? How are they going to host it? Because for nonprofits and those agencies that are doing programs, it's the most direct way to get to the meat and potatoes.
Amy Huffman: Yeah, absolutely. You're right. So the NTIA will be the ones administering those grants, along with the grants to states. And so, you're right, that it would be the most direct path to receive the funding. And so, it would be an organization like yours going and applying for the funds from NTIA.
Amy Huffman: We still don't know what that application will look like. We don't know when it will be open. That was, if you recall on the presentation, the timeline with the least amount of definite certainty because we were just unsure of when NTIA will open up those grants for everyone.
Amy Huffman: But what I do know is they will do a request for comments period. We encourage as many folks in our affiliates to do so as well, if you have the capacity to do so, because providing feedback to NTIA about how it's best for you to apply for these grants, manage these grants, do the reporting on these grants will be helpful for them as they establish these.
Christine: Yeah. Thanks for that, because I think that a lot of us would be right there to help you. We just ... We're not monitoring it the way you guys are monitoring it. So that call to action. Just reach out and say, "Christine, I need your comments now." [inaudible 00:47:29].
Amy Huffman: Yes. We will be monitoring it very closely. So for anyone, this is a great time to just pause and say if you're not part of our community and you have any interest in this field, now is a great time to become part of our community, because we will be working to keep you all informed as these things go. We will be sending out things on our listserv. We will be saying, "We need comments from you now. We will be inviting you to join working groups to be part of this process." So we'd love for you to be part of our community, if you're not already.
Angela Siefer: Amy, can you quickly explain how BEAD could potentially ... Again, we don't know if the rules aren't out there, but could potentially be used for things other than infrastructure since that is our focus, NDIA's focus, the beyond the infrastructure question. Can you get into that just a little bit?
Amy Huffman: Yes. So the act specifically says it can be used for broadband adoption, including programs to provide affordable Internet-capable devices. It also says ... I had it pulled up on my paper copy. I still have a paper copy, you all, just in case I got this question.
Amy Huffman: It also says that the use of funds installing Internet and Wi-Fi infrastructure, or providing reduced-cost broadband within a multifamily residential building. So that's making sure that the networks within public housing or multifamily units are affordable. It gives priorities to those buildings that have a substantial share of unserved households, or are in a location in which the percentage of individuals are at or below 150% of the poverty line. So those are two ways.
Amy Huffman: The broadband adoption part is very vague. So the states will have a lot of leeway on how they interpret that.
Angela Siefer: Great, thank you. Question from Ricky.
Ricky: All right. Good afternoon.
Amy Huffman: Hi, Ricky.
Ricky: How are you doing? So some of the items have been covered, but I just wanted some clarity behind it, because right now, for those of us who are having to work with city governments, municipalities, and school systems and housing authorities at the same token, if we're looking at almost six to 12 months before anything can be rolled out, what are we doing in the middle for all of these families that are still completely unserved, that from our position, all of us sit in a position of privilege where we have access?
Ricky: So how can we use some existing funds, like the EBB going to ACP, to be able to say, "Let's go do some multifamily unit properties so we can get the feasibilities," because if we're just waiting on the FCC for the maps, we know where the clusters of poverty are. We know where the broadband redlining or digital inequities exist for places like housing authorities. Is there something we can continue to do as a group to start smally connecting households and families while we're waiting on these large opportunities to come out?
Amy Huffman: Yeah. Great question, Ricky. So I want to address one thing that you said, and then I'll address it as a whole. So first, that we're only waiting on the maps for the BEAD portion of the funds, which granted is the bulk of the funds. But, still, that's what we're waiting on the maps for.
Amy Huffman: The Digital Equity Act is not attached to that portion of the funding. So you don't have to wait for the funds for that. That said, there's a whole plan that the state has to go through before the other funds are available, et cetera, et cetera. So there is going to be waiting, and it is not going to be available overnight.
Amy Huffman: So here's my recommendation. You do look to things. You already just mentioned a really great idea, using existing funds that are available today to do innovative things. So EBB or ACP, you can use in multifamily dwelling units. So figuring out how to do that and do that well, getting the word out there about the ACP to get more folks connected.
Amy Huffman: The other big thing is if you live in a city, in a municipality, in a community that does not have a coalition, start one. Communities with coalitions are going to be better equipped, better prepared to seamlessly connect all these different tranches of funding and coordinate where all these funding pots go.
Amy Huffman: We have someone on staff that can provide you some guidance on that. Her name's Munirih Jester. We're updating our coalition's guidebook. That will be released shortly. That can also support you in that. So that is step one.
Amy Huffman: The other thing is there are funds out there right now from the American Rescue Plan Act that your local governments and your states have access to. If you haven't already talked to them about how they're using those funds for digital inclusion, then that's a great thing to do. Just ask them how they're using them.
Amy Huffman: The other thing, and I'm going to share this example from Franklin County, Ohio, their digital equity coalition has several subgroups. One of them is an advocacy group. Their advocacy team has been meeting with their city council and county commissioners for the past month. Just a meeting. Just to introduce themselves and say, "This is who we are. This is our group. This is what we do."
Amy Huffman: They're not asking for funding. They're just introducing themselves, which actually one of the folks on the call who's worked with city counselors for a long time, she said this is the best practice and this is how you end up getting funding. Doing these soft introductions now will help you be in the door later. So those would be my recommendations.
Angela Siefer: Okay. We have two minutes left. It was noted to me in the chat that we should remind everyone how NDIA creates comments. So whenever we're replying to request for comments like we are doing right now with EBB to ACP, and what we'll do again when it comes to NTIA, is that we do have partners out there who are working on their own comments. So if you're ever working on your own comments on any of these, let Amy and Josh know that you're doing that.
Angela Siefer: But then also we do working groups. We create working groups whenever we need feedback from you all. So if we know that you are interested in a particular issue, we will welcome you into the working group. Of course, participating in the listserv influences the comments that we provide, too.
Angela Siefer: Then the question about the coalition work. Could one of our NDIA team grab the link for the coalition guidebook? The one that we have up right now is the one from a couple of years ago. So we're in process of updating that, and that will be out in January. But this one can at least get things started. Amy, last words?
Amy Huffman: I know this was a lot of information. Stay tuned. We're going to have a lot more explainers like this coming out in the new year. Hang with us. We're going to keep plugging away at this and keep learning about all this together, because this is a lot. We're learning a lot, I promise you.
Amy Huffman: So if you have any questions in the meantime that I didn't answer today, feel free to reach out. But we appreciate you all and all the work you do and all the work that you did to get us to this point where we actually have this huge pot of money that can help really go towards beginning to close the digital divide. So thank you. Thank you for being here. We appreciate you. We'll see you next time.
Ry Marcattili-McCracken: We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at email@example.com with your ideas for the show.
Ry Marcattili-McCracken: Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts.
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