What Libraries Need to Know about the Digital Equity Act

Tips to maximize support and funding for your library’s digital inclusion goals

December 28, 2021

Advocacy Update

What does the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) mean for libraries?

Signed into law by President Joe Biden on November 15, 2021, IIJA includes a historic investment in advancing digital equity and an opportunity for libraries to leverage and expand their roles in that work.

The Digital Equity Act (DEA), a provision within IIJA, includes a federal investment of $2.75 billion over five years to promote digital equity, literacy, and inclusion initiatives at the local, state, and national levels. Libraries of all types will be eligible to apply.

As DEA states, broadband connections are critical for participation in society, the economy, civic institutions, health care, education, and digital careers.

DEA includes the following federal funding allocations:

  • $60 million for State Digital Equity Planning Grants. State plans should promote digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for the adoption of broadband for state residents. Governors will need to appoint an administering entity to oversee the planning.
  • $1.44 billion for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program. This will provide formula funding to states and territories to implement digital equity plans.
  • $1.25 billion for the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is for eligible entities, including libraries, to promote digital inclusion and spur greater adoption of broadband among covered populations. Examples include:

o   training programs that cover basic and advanced digital skills
o   workforce development programs
o   free or low-cost equipment provided to covered populations
o   constructing, upgrading, or expanding public access computing centers

Covered populations include those living in low-income households or rural areas, older adults, veterans, racial or ethnic minorities, and individuals with disabilities, language barriers, or who are incarcerated.

The three DEA grant programs will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which previously managed the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) during the Great Recession.

ALA has begun advocacy with NTIA, outlining the essential roles of all types of libraries and calling for library engagement throughout the program. NTIA is expected to issue a request for comments in December, which will inform a future Notice of Funding Opportunity for DEA programs in spring 2022.

While the program is in development, now is the time to start planning how your library and community can benefit from this historic investment. Here are tips to gear up:

  • Inventory your library’s existing digital inclusion resources, reach, partners, successes, and challenges. How has your library helped job seekers, students, veterans, and others succeed? What is the digital inclusion story you would tell today to show the value and impact of your library’s work in this space? (For example, here’s an Arkansas case study from the Libraries Lead with Digital Skills initiative.)
  • Identify the digital equity, literacy, and inclusion needs in your community and explore how your library and partners may address these gaps. Think big—this investment may permit larger programs than what’s usually available to libraries.
  • Share your stories and aspirations with ALA, state library agencies, and state chapters to aid advocacy for libraries at all levels.
  • Consider ways to increase awareness of how your library promotes digital equity with your school/district administrators, fellow educators and faculty, college/university leaders, library board, potential partners, state and local elected officials, local media, and more.

Overall, IIJA includes $65 billion for broadband, including provisions that promote gigabit service for libraries and other community anchor institutions, a provision ALA has long advocated. More information on these provisions can be found in this blog from NTIA.

Libraries have successfully created and implemented programs and services advancing digital equity, literacy, and inclusion in their communities for decades. This new legislation provides libraries the opportunity to strengthen and extend this work.


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