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Digital Inclusion Policy and Funding
Digital Inclusion Policy and Funding
Michigan Digital Inclusion Policy
The Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) is committed to implementing strategies to bridge the digital divide and improve digital equity and inclusion. In support of this mission, the 2021 Update to the Michigan Broadband Roadmap articulates a statewide goal to create a more digitally equitable Michigan. This goal ensures that everyone can meaningfully adopt high-speed internet service.
The following strategies and objectives are outlined in the Michigan broadband roadmap:
Strategy 1: Address the internet affordability gap.
- Objective 1: Develop a grassroots outreach and education strategy that targets households experiencing broadband affordability issues to provide information on programs that can assist with the cost of service.
- Objective 2: Create a fund or endowment to help subsidize connections for low-income households without access to an existing program.
Strategy 2: Ensure Michigan residents have access to internet-enabled devices that meet their needs.
- Objective 1: MIHI encourages and supports Michigan libraries to seek funding to purchase hotspots and implement hotspot or device-lending programs. Such efforts allow patrons to check out a 4G or 5G mobile wireless or Wi-Fi-enabled device for a specified period. This can provide low-income patrons with home connectivity when a device or broadband service is not available or affordable.
- Objective 2: Explore surplus equipment policies to ensure discarded devices (i.e., desktops, laptops, and tablets) can be donated to nonprofits that refurbish and provide computers to low-income families and families with K-12 students at home. Encourage public institutions, including counties, local governments, community colleges and others to consider computer donations to similar nonprofit organizations to maximize available devices for vulnerable populations.
- Objective 3: Bring awareness and encourage the availability of public access computers in community organizations across Michigan, including but not limited to libraries, mobile computer labs, workforce development centers, senior centers, afterschool centers and places of worship.
Strategy 3: Curate and support statewide and place-based digital readiness, digital literacy and job skills training.
- Objective 1: Support libraries, schools, community colleges, senior centers, nonprofits, community partners, regional service organizations and others by promoting and expanding digital literacy and technology training to residents and businesses through existing training programs and curricula (such as the Regional Educational Media Center Association of Michigan’s “21 Things 4 Students” training portal). Resources should be openly licensed, accessed via the web and administered locally. Training should include relevant curriculum for both residents and businesses. MIHI will coordinate this objective with the Michigan Department of Education and other relevant agencies and partners.
- Objective 2: Establish partnerships with colleges, universities, workforce development entities, business owners, and libraries to develop mentoring programs that advance digital readiness, digital skills and upskilling to technology jobs, particularly those skills needed by employers.
- Objective 3: Partner with public and private entities across Michigan to develop a public service announcement to promote the importance of digital literacy for all Michigan residents, as one of the key barriers to broadband adoption is awareness.
- Objective 4: Encourage local communities to assist residents with technology needs. MIHI will partner with digital inclusion practitioners to compile and administer centralized resources on digital literacy, internet safety, technical support and other internet basics. These centrally located resources will be available for community organizations and may be used for train-the-trainer workshops or other community-based programs.
Funding for Digital Inclusion
In 2021, a bipartisan U.S. Congress approved a $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as a bipartisan infrastructure law. This historic and bipartisan legislation included $65 billion for addressing broadband infrastructure and adoption needs. In addition to a large amount designated for infrastructure deployment, the funding included an unprecedented amount for advancing digital inclusion and addressing the affordability barrier to broadband adoption.Affordable Connectivity Program
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $14.2 billion to help households tackle the affordability barrier to adoption. This program allows Michigan to address affordability barriers outlined in the state plan.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), provides $30/month assistance with internet bills for qualifying households. The program also provides a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet or desktop computer. Residents may qualify through a provider-offered low-cost service plan that may be fully covered through the ACP.
Who qualifies for the ACP? To be eligible, households must meet one of the following criteria:
In May 2022, the Biden administration announced an initiative to leverage the ACP to provide free internet to ACP-eligible households across most of the country in partnership with participating internet service providers (ISPs). More affordability plans are incorporated into the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program to fund last-mile broadband infrastructure deployment in the coming years.
- Household income is below 200% of the federal poverty line (FPL). In Michigan in 2022, this means:
- Singles earning $27,180 or less
- Households of 2 earning less than $36,620
- Households of 3 earning less than $46,060
- Households of 4 earning less than $55,500
- Households of 5 earning less than $64,940
- Household receives benefits from SNAP, Medicaid, Pell Grants, SSI, WIC, FCC Lifeline, federal public housing assistance, National School Lunch Program or veterans’ pensions
- Household income is below 200% of the federal poverty line (FPL). In Michigan in 2022, this means:
Affordable Connectivity Outreach Programs
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) was created as a new program in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and began to be implemented early in 2022. Like other new programs, it starts out not being very well known. To raise awareness, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has developed, and recently launched application windows for, three outreach programs which, in different ways, seek to promote ACP participation among eligible populations. Applications for all three programs are due January 9. The three programs are:
- The Your Home, Your Internet (YHYI) Pilot Program (Notice of Funding Opportunity)
- The ACP Navigator Pilot Program (NPP) (NOFO, same as YHYI)
- The ACP Outreach Program (NOFO)
The three programs are compared in the table below:
Program YHYI NPP ACP Outreach Eligibility State, local, and tribal governments, House agencies, nonprofits and others. Schools, school districts, local and state government entities.
- State governments and subdivisions
- Local/tribal governments and subdivisions
- Public housing agencies
- Social service providers
- Education organizations
- Workforce development
- Non-profit, community and faith-based organizations
- Community anchor institutions
- Public service organizations
Funding $5,000,000 $5,000,000
- $60,000,000 competitive
- $10,000,000 tribal
- $50K - $1M per project
- Projected 200-400 awards
Deadlines January 9 January 9 January 9 Allowable expenditures and purpose ACP outreach, especially to affordable housing community ACP outreach through neutral schools and other third-party entities ("navigators)
- In person ACP application assistance
- Digital campaigns
- Outreach materials
- Direct mail
- ACP service provider locator
- Fringe benefits
- Project management
- Facilities rental
- Targeting a broad geography or population
- Effective tracking and performance measurement
- Encourages ACP participation among low participation groups
- Cost march (tie breaker)
Independent merit review will assess the technical soundness and merit of the application award:
- Up to 5 points for application information
- Up to 25 points for project narrative
- Up to 12 bonus points for "funding priorities"
Project narrative should demonstrate a clear understanding of the ACP, describe intended impact, show that activities will raise awareness of an enrollment in ACP and show how lessons learned will benefit other organizations. Cost share (tie breaker)
When can eligible entities apply for funding?
The FCC expects to open the Pilot Programs’ application window and release the Notice of Funding Opportunity (or NOFO) for Pilot Program funding in November 2022.
How to Prepare for the Application Process
If an entity intends to apply for grant funding, the applicant must first obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN) and be registered with the System for Award Management and Grants.gov.
Obtaining an FCC Registration Number (FRN). All applicants that intend to seek grant funding must register for an FRN in the Commission Registration System (CORES).
SAM Registration. All entities that intend to apply for an outreach grant will need to register and maintain an active registration with the System for Award Management (SAM). Apply for SAM, a web-based, government-wide application that collects, validates, stores, and disseminates business information about the federal government’s partners in support of federal awards, grants and electronic payment processes.
Grants.gov Registration. Entities that intend to apply for Pilot Grants funding must also register with Grants.gov. Entities can find information concerning Grants.gov by registering. Register with Grants.gov, the party must already have a Unique Entity Identifier from SAM.gov.
For more information regarding the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program. please email ACPgrants@fcc.gov.
For further information regarding the Your Home, Your Internet and ACP Navigator Pilot Programs, please send an email to ACPpilots@fcc.gov. Additional information concerning both the Your Home, Your Internet and ACP Navigator Pilot Programs will be posted on the FCC website.
The BEAD Middle-Class Affordability Plan & Low-Cost Broadband Option
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $42.45 billion for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program to fund infrastructure deployment; it also seeks to make internet service more affordable.
Although the BEAD Program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), targets infrastructure and universal broadband access above all, multiple features of the program also seek to make internet service more affordable. States must ensure that BEAD grant recipients participate in the ACP. Still, they are expected to develop a "middle-class affordability plan" to be incorporated into the planning documents they provide to the NTIA to receive funding and to design a BEAD "low-cost broadband option" for all recipients of BEAD grants.
The "middle-class affordability plan" may be a valuable opportunity for state leaders to work out and articulate goals and strategies concerning broadband affordability. However, it is unclear whether these plans will be binding beyond the requirement that they be published in BEAD planning documents. By contrast, the BEAD low-cost option will be binding. What it looks like may vary from state to state, and is not yet known. But it may be foreshadowed by existing low-cost broadband plans offered by many private ISPs. These plans make it possible for many income-constrained people to get free broadband if they also sign up for the ACP.
In the BEAD guidance, the NTIA proposes, as an implementation of the BEAD low-cost plan, an arrangement whereby ISPs, to qualify for BEAD, must offer plans that cost $30 per month in general or $75 per month on tribal lands, resulting in the internet that is free to the consumer. The question remains: Is that a good idea? Interested Michiganders will have the opportunity to voice their views during the BEAD stakeholder engagement process that will take place over the next few months.
While appealing, the BEAD low-cost option may have limited reach because it may only need to be offered in areas that have been awarded BEAD grants, which will comprise only a small part of the state of Michigan.
The Digital Equity Act
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act for states to develop and implement digital equity plans and advance activities that advance digital equity and inclusion.
The Digital Equity Act established grant programs that promote digital equity and inclusion. They aim to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy. The three programs are the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program ($60 billion), the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program ($1.44 billion) and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program ($1.25 billion).
All 50 states and U.S territories, including Michigan, have submitted applications for the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program. According to the Notice of Funding Opportunity released by the NTIA in May, Michigan had a tentative award allocation of $1,332,440.72 for digital equity planning. The announcement of the state planning grants began on September 29, 2022, on a rolling basis. Michigan will collaborate with other stakeholders to develop the statewide digital equity plan.
What should leaders and local community members be doing over the next year?
Stay connected with the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) to learn about opportunities to participate in community engagement and share insights on what should be in the state digital equity plan that will ultimately translate into funding.Who Can Participate in the planning process?The NTIA encourages states to collaborate with entities not named in the statute, including:
Are there Funding Opportunities for Communities?
- Members of covered populations who have direct lived experience with being disconnected
- State agencies
- Labor unions and other organizations that represent workers
- Self-paced digital inclusion coalitions
- Chambers of commerce and industry associations
- Public housing resident associations
- Health care systems and networks
- Homeless continuum-of-care providers
- Multi-family housing developers and owners
- Faith-based institutions
- Business owners, state and local foundations, and funders
- Early childhood and early intervention coordinators
- Re-entry organizations
The state may award subgrants for implementing digital inclusion programs when it receives capacity-building grants.
Once the NTIA approves the state digital equity plan, states can apply for State Digital Equity Capacity Grants. Funding is substantial, with the average state receiving almost $30 million. These funds, along with BEAD program funds to be used for digital equity, can be used for the following purposes by the state or subgrantees:
NOTE: These activities do not all need to occur in every state and do not need to be planned in detail to request planning funds.
- Promoting programs that advance the adoption of broadband
- Assistance with Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment so that low-income households can get broadband
- Basic digital skills and specialized applications
- Cybersecurity training and cybercrime prevention
- Upskilling small business owners for e-commerce and telework
- Public access to computers in schools, libraries, and nonprofits
- Telehealth training
- Assistance preparing online resumes and conducting online job searches
- Regional meetings for librarians and school IT personnel
- Data collection to understand residents' ability to use computers
- Training in online personal finance; development and publication of web-based resources for e-learning, telehealth, and online job search
- Sharing of best practices among libraries concerning digital skills training and managing public access computers
- Direct provision of internet-capable devices to selected citizens; and many more
The Emergency Connectivity Fund
Managing Agency: Federal Communications Commission
Agency: Federal Communications Commission
Funding: $7.171 billion
Established: As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, passed on March 11, 2021
Purpose: To distribute devices needed for remote learning, through participating schools and libraries, during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Status: In three funding windows, applications were solicited and all funds have been awarded. There are ongoing projects but no new opportunities.
Impact: Universal Service Administration Co. (USAC) reports, as of August 2022, that the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program has distributed 12 million devices, with some projects ongoing.As of August 2022, as shown in Figure 1, most of the funds have already been committed, and applications for ECF Window 3 are being reviewed. Since Window 3 ECF requests exceed the remaining ECF budget by hundreds of millions, and since most Window 1 and Window 2 ECF requests were approved, it is expected that ECF funds will be fully expended in this window, closing out a program that was always intended to be temporary and emergency response, even if some of the activities it funded may be worth institutionalizing and investing for the longer term.Figure 1. Three Rounds of ECF Funding
While the funds’ allocation stage is nearly complete, ECF-funded activities will continue to be launched for the next few months and carry on for some time as ECF monies are expended.
Figure 2 zooms in on Michigan and shows the ECF monies requested, approved, committed and disbursed in ECF Window 1, Window 2 and Window 3. Over $140 million in ECF funding has been approved so far. Over $35 million in requests are still under review. The approval rates in Window 1 and Window 2 suggest that most of them will be approved, except that the national program is now oversubscribed by over $1 billion, so some of these applications will presumably not get funded because the federal ECF program will run out of money.
Figure 2. Michigan ECF Requests, Commitments and Disbursements
The largest share of ECF funds Michigan's have been allocated to school districts, as shown in Table 1. Schools independently were awarded a small fraction of the ECF funds, while an even smaller fraction went to libraries or consortia.
Applicant Type Committed $ School District $134,739,264.29 School $7,857,551.93 Consortium $1,634,512.87 Library System $1,317,816.34 Library $189,828.70 Total $145,738,974.13
Table 2 shows what these schools, libraries, and consortia purchased with their ECF funds. Most of the spend, $109.2 million or 75%, was on equipment, primarily laptops, which accounted for 60% of the ECF spend in Michigan. The services spend was overwhelmingly on mobile broadband.
Service Type Committed $ Equipment of which: $109,200,287.47 Laptops $87,602,616.76 Tablets $14,832,763.24 Wi-Fi hotspots $5,934,193.61 Modems and routers $563,783.17 Other $266,930.69 Services of which: $36,538,686.66 Mobile Broadband $36,329,396.19 Non-mobile Broadband $82,075.00 Other Charges $116,343.47
Most of the ECF mobile broadband (77%) was provided by T-Mobile, with a few other companies, including Verizon, Kajeet, Sprint, AT&T, Mobile Beacon, Comcast and 25 others providing smaller shares, as shown in Table 3.
Service Provider Name (if Service) Committed $ T-MOBILE USA, INC. $28,000,900.48 VERIZON WIRELESS (CELLCO PARTNERSHIP) $4,849,054.67 KAJEET, INC. $1,250,147.58 SPRINT SPECTRUM, L.P. $540,994.40 AT&T MOBILITY $389,288.22 MOBILE BEACON $389,172.16 COMCAST CABLE COMMUNICATIONS, LLC $296,210.40 OTHER $822,918.75
Digital inclusion stakeholders should study the ECF experience for lessons learned that may apply to the state’s upcoming implementation of the IIJA’s Digital Equity Act. By the time the ECF program in Michigan has run its course, it will have spent upwards of $150 million to $160 million, primarily through schools, for laptops and mobile broadband for students. Digital Equity Act grants could continue to fund activities like these on a smaller scale since the DEA programs are smaller than the ECF. But hopefully, the one-time ECF spend on equipment will continue to provide device access for many students after the ECF program closes out, mitigating this need. There are other digitally needy populations besides students, and digital inclusion needs go beyond devices and connectivity.
The state digital equity planning process, due to begin in fall 2022, is an excellent opportunity to revisit the track record of the ECF, study its impact, and try to discern and apply lessons learned.