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Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives Proposed to Link Minority Communities

Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) have introduced the “Connecting Minority Communities Act,” saying it will further accelerate broadband development in underserved and rural communities. The bill codifies the existing Minority Broadband Initiative at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in a new Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives (MBI). It proposes a $100 million grant fund to supply equipment and maintenance support to the newly empowered communities.

The proposed legislation would also create a pilot program to provide grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to expand access to broadband and digital opportunity in their communities.

“Closing the digital divide remains a top priority for the Commerce Committee, but too many minority communities remain unconnected,” said Wicker, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “The new Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives would focus federal efforts to address this challenge.”

He said that the pilot program’s grants to the three academic groups will “further economic development where it is needed most.”

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Scott pointed out that the “current pandemic has highlighted this disadvantage” of access in underserved areas, calling the proposal a way to accelerate broadband into “our nation’s most vulnerable communities.”

Their plan envisions the new MBI working with Federal agencies to determine how to increase access to broadband and other digital opportunities in communities near the HBCUs/TCUs/HSIs and working with those institutions plus state and local governments “to expand broadband access and digital literacy in these communities.”

The bill will also create a Connected Minority Communities Pilot Program, which would provide $100 million in grants to HBCUs, TCUs, and HSIs to purchase broadband service, broadband equipment (wi-fi hot spots, connected devices, routers, and modems), or compensate information technology personnel, to facilitate online learning or to operate a small business or nonprofit.