The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has released its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the Digital Equity Planning Grant. The program is currently accepting applications from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, tribes, and Native entities.
Kentucky will be submitting its Letter of Intent (LOI) in July. If everything moves forward per the current timeline provided by the NTIA, the commonwealth will receive program funds by the end of September.
The Digital Equity Planning Grant will provide Kentucky with a tentative funding amount of $874,236.13. The commonwealth will use these funds to scope out a plan to identify current barriers, develop targeted programs, and achieve digital equity where it’s needed most. After the planning period wraps up, implementation grant funds will come online from the NTIA to launch digital equity programs across the state.
Digital equity is a critical component of broadband expansion in rural areas across the US. It’s so essential that it will be a federal requirement to align digital equity plans with broadband installation proposals to ensure the internet can reach those who need it most.
The Digital Equity Planning Grant will offer significant benefits to Eastern Kentucky communities. Let’s start from the beginning: understanding how digital equity must play a role in our region’s economic future and shape our region’s broadband expansion plans. From here, we can discuss the outcomes we expect from this program in the next few years.
What is digital equity?
Digital equity is the concept that all residents — regardless of zip code — can access digital resources, such as high-speed broadband, and have digital literacy skills, such as knowing how to apply to online jobs.
Digital equity will be transformative for the Eastern Kentucky economy. So many of our residents can benefit from internet-enabled opportunities, such as working remotely, accessing telehealth, and studying online.
Reputable studies prove that high-speed internet access decreases income inequality for connected households. As our communities strive to rebound from the decline of coal, 100% broadband connectivity will be foundational to unlocking regional prosperity once again.
What does the Digital Equity Planning Grant Program aim to achieve?
The term ‘digital equity’ is fairly new to us in Eastern Kentucky. But the idea behind it is something we’ve been pursuing for a long time.
But many remote towns still lack access to last-mile fiber, and several of our lowest-income communities with 100% broadband connectivity still face affordability challenges. An urgent need remains to incentivize installation partners to close these gaps in support of our residents’ best interests.
The current administration is aware of these challenges and has issued grant opportunities designed to ensure digital equity and broadband development go hand in hand.
As our community leaders band together to install new broadband infrastructure and complete last-mile installation projects, digital equity must play a big role. In fact, Kentucky’s step-by-step plan resulting from this planning grant must operate in tandem with the BEAD initiative, which will support installation efforts with significant funding opportunities statewide.
The Digital Equity Planning Grant will help states achieve the following outcomes:
- Identify the barriers standing in the way of digital equity.
- Develop measurable objectives to improve digital equity, from availability and affordability of broadband to digital literacy outcomes
- Assess how digital equity impacts economic and workforce development, health and educational outcomes, and civic and social engagement.
- Develop a step-by-step plan to achieve measurable outcomes.
Once it receives program funds, Kentucky will develop its digital equity plan. Over the next year or so, the commonwealth will work to identify organizations and community partners that can help carry out its top objectives.
Eastern Kentucky leaders should take note — and start considering what digital equity initiatives you can develop for your communities.
How will the Digital Equity Planning Grant Program impact Eastern Kentucky?
Since the plan is still in the pre-development phase, the projected impacts on Eastern Kentucky are still an unknown quantity. That said, we agree on the topline level about the primary outcomes for statewide digital equity.
The Digital Equity Planning Grant Program focuses on key priorities such as:
- Increasing last-mile broadband projects and targeting them to communities that need support to close existing gaps.
- Launching digital literacy programs to help residents secure remote work opportunities and better leverage online resources.
- Training residents to make full use of internet-enabled opportunities, such as telehealth, remote classrooms, civic participation, and social engagement.
- Increasing workforce participation in careers enabled by the remote work economy and online job applications.
- Pursuing the proven link between high-speed internet connectivity and higher local wages.
- Decreasing regional poverty rates resulting from improved access to online resources and high-paying jobs.
- Improving regional health outcomes by making it easier for rural residents to access and research doctors and care online.
Our region’s goals for broadband have always centered on these core themes: boosting the economy, creating stability for families, and providing opportunities for a better quality of life.
Changes related to digital equity can start small — on the local level. You can make an impact by creating digital literacy programs of your own, such as training residents for remote careers using free specialized software resources.
And be sure to keep an eye out for the launch of the Appalachian Digital Training Center, which will be helping residents to prepare for careers in agritech and other advanced industries.
Conclusion: Support digital equity in your Eastern Kentucky community
As Kentucky leaders develop a digital equity plan for our communities, you can do your part to help close the access gap for residents.
Make broadband installation a priority in your town or county. For resources on how to start,
And as you seek funding for your broadband projects, learn how to apply for grants using today’s best practices to improve your chances of winning.