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Next Century Cities Submits Comments Urging the NTIA to Engage with Local Leadership as it Rolls Monumental Broadband Funding Programs

By Ryan Johnston

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act (“IIJA”) tasks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) with developing rules for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (“BEAD”). The BEAD program will provide funding for states to support broadband infrastructure deployment and adoption. The other IIJA programs include funding for middle mile infrastructure deployment, Tribal Broadband Connectivity, and state digital equity planning.

On February 3, 2022, Next Century Cities submitted comments to the NTIA encouraging the agency to work closely with local governments and community-based organizations that support new collaborations and build public awareness. Further, the comments reflect direct feedback from local officials who see the need to embrace both traditional and non-traditional partnerships, including those in collaboration with municipally-owned, nonprofit, and cooperative networks. These organizations should be able to compete for deployment opportunities in their communities. 

NCC also urged the NTIA to collect information on broadband speeds actually delivered by BEAD-funded programs. Subscription data in areas previously classified as unserved and the number of consumers who have enrolled in a BEAD sponsored low-cost program will be critical for assessing whether the BEAD program is meeting the broadband goals outlined in the IIJA. 

Finally, local leaders recommended that BEAD funding should be used to support digital literacy and digital skills training. Focusing on broadband infrastructure investment and affordability will only get broadband will improve access, but too many households lack the tools to fully utilize an Internet connection nearby. A connected device and skills training are essential complements to digital infrastructure. 

The NTIA has been entrusted with a historic amount of funding to help close America’s digital divide. However, these new resources will not be able to address the entire scope of the problem. New funding will make a far-reaching impact if it is administered and distributed to the communities that need them most. This can be achieved by ensuring that the rules outlining the BEAD program reflect the insights and ideas from all stakeholders, especially those who are still waiting for baseline connectivity. 

Next Century Cities also joined comments submitted by Broadband Connects America, a coalition of consumer, rural, and social justice organizations committed to closing the digital divide. They highlight how the NTIA must prioritize high-quality, affordable and open networks. BCA’s comments also center on the need for state collaboration with localities, Tribes, and other impacted parties during its earliest planning stages. In addition, BCA reiterated a point made in Next Century Cities’ comments that the NTIA’s low-cost program should align its eligibility criteria with that of the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program. Finally, BCA comments emphasized the need for NTIA to provide robust support for digital equity initiatives to close the digital divide.  

Read NCC’s full comments here. The press release is available hereYou can read BCA’s complete filing here.

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