Policy Explainer: Digital Equity Act Programs Update


EJ John

Sr. Research Analyst

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law or BIL) created several new programs to expand broadband access. The BIL established the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) and funded the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program to promote the expansion of broadband infrastructure. Additionally the BIL also included the Digital Equity Act Programs (DEA) to promote the adoption of broadband technology.

This explainer will briefly describe each program and how Tribal Nations can participate. It will also give a short update on the status of each part of the program as of the time this document is published. Please visit the DEA programs website for information on how to apply and additional information on these grant programs.

This explainer will include three important details about each program within the Digital Equity Act Programs (DEA): (1) A short description of each program, (2) How Tribal Nations can participate, (3) Status update of each part of the program as of the time of this document’s publication. Please visit the DEA programs website for information on how to apply and additional information on these grant programs.

The following 3 grant programs make up the DEA programs:

State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program - Eligible entities encouraged to apply for this program included states, territories, and Tribal Nations. The main purpose of this program was to help applicants create a digital equity plan to develop solutions to digital equity barriers. $60 million was allocated to this program with Arizona receiving about $1.1 million to develop its own digital equity plan. This program is in its closeout phase and NTIA has announced that all 50 states have submitted their digital equity plans for approval.

Tribes interested in applying to this program had a different process than states. NTIA stated in the program FAQs that Tribes must submit letters of intent, then NTIA would follow up with further instructions on how to apply. However, the planning grant program received an overwhelming response from Tribes, resulting in planning grant funding moving to the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program. 

State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program - This program builds upon the planning grant program,it is intended to help applicants implement their digital equity plans that were developed under the planning grant program. This capacity grant program is allocated $1.44 billion which will be dispersed to states through a funding formula. The program NOFO shows that Arizona will receive just over $16 million. Arizona’s plans to implement the AZ Digital Equity Plan also depend on the approval of the AZ BEAD Initial Proposal Vol. 2. Currently, Arizona and several other states are in the process of getting their initial proposals approved by the NTIA. Awards from this program must be issued by NTIA no later than August 28, 2024. 

The program NOFO also explains the planning grant program received a substantial amount of letters of intent from Tribes, which caused problems with oversubscription. Therefore, unused money and the Tribal set aside money from the planning grant program was added to this capacity grant funding program’s Tribal set aside amount. NTIA is designating $45.3 million for Tribal applicants to the capacity grant program.

Tribal Nations are eligible to apply to this program. However, the process is different from states and territories. The Tribal application window will be open from September 25, 2024 - February 7, 2025. This capacity grant program will not award Tribes who are applying for a standalone planning grant. Planning grant funding will only be awarded in conjunction with capacity grant funding to address digital equity plan implementation.

Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program - This grant program is also meant to support digital equity activities. This grant will allow applications from entities other than state governments and Tribal Nations. Currently no NOFO exists to describe the details of this grant program. However, the BIL requires that the competitive grant program begin no later than 30 days after capacity grant awards start going out.