Equity of Access
Federal Policies & Funding
Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Banks commit over $100 billion in CRA funds each year to foster economic opportunity, inclusion and vitality, in the nation’s low- and moderate-income communities. Banks can now receive credit toward meeting their CRA obligation by investing in efforts to close the digital divide. The NCDE launched a national campaign, “One Percent for Digital Equity,” encourage banks to voluntarily commit 1% of their Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funds for digital equity.
Digital Equity Act 2019. The Digital Equity Act of 2019 establishes two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide:
- Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: The Digital Equity Act of 2019 creates an annual $120 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each state
- Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: The Digital Equity Act of 2019 creates an annual $120 million competitive grant program to support digital inclusion projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest
- Supporting Research and Evidence-Based Policymaking: The Digital Equity Act of 2019 tasks NTIA with evaluating digital inclusion projects and providing policymakers at the local, state,and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.
Educational Broadband Service (EBS). The 2.5 GHz EBS spectrum is the only licensed spectrum available to educational institutions to connect their communities. Where EBS has been licensed to educational institutions, EBS is connecting tens of thousands of schools, libraries and other anchor institutions, and through them, millions of students and families that were not otherwise served by commercial broadband offers. EBS has evolved from a broadcast to a broadband service, and new, off-the-shelf technology makes this spectrum a very promising resource for closing the broadband equity gap. For over two decades, the FCC has not made new EBS licenses available in roughly 50% of the U.S., mostly in rural areas. Making this spectrum available to rural educators has the potential to drive rural deployment, increase access to educational services, spur economic growth and close the homework gap. In May of 2018, the FCC launched a proceeding to finish licensing this spectrum to educational institutions and rural Tribal Nations, but some parties have opposed this proposal.
E-rate. The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Universal Service for Schools and Libraries Program (often referred to as E-rate) is one of four such Universal Service Fund (USF) programs. Funding for E-rate comes from USF fees collected by telecommunications providers. Known as a discount program, E-rate provides schools and libraries with subsidies on telecommunications and Internet access services based on their level of need. Lear more about E-rate.
Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act (pending). To rebuild and modernize the Nation’s infrastructure to expand access to broadband and Next Generation 9–1–1, rehabilitate drinking water infrastructure, modernize the electric grid and energy supply infrastructure, redevelop brownfields, strengthen health care infrastructure, create jobs, and protect public health and the environment, and for other purposes.
Legislation would make Wi-Fi on school buses eligible for E-Rate reimbursement (pending). A bi-partisan bill was introduced to Congress to make it easier to put wireless internet on school buses to help students without broadband access at home get online to study, learn, and complete homework. The legislation would require E-rate to reimburse school districts that place Wi-Fi technology on school buses carrying students to school or school-related extracurricular activities.
FCC Should Assess Making Off-School Premises Access Eligible for Additional Federal Support (pending). A recent GAO report recommends that the FCC take steps to assess and publish the potential benefits, costs, and challenges of making off-premises wireless access eligible for E-rate support. The FCC agreed with GAO’s recommendation.