U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Tim Scott, R-S.C., today introduced the Connecting Minority Communities Act to codify the existing Minority Broadband Initiative at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in a new Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives (MBI). The 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. “The new Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives would focus federal efforts to address this challenge. Partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions would help further economic development where it is needed most. I look forward to seeing this important measure advance.”
“Connectivity has been an issue for so many South Carolinians – and Americans – in underserved and rural areas for decades, and the current pandemic has highlighted this disadvantage,” said Scott. “Under this bill, we are leveling the playing field for those in underserved neighborhoods to access the same opportunities. I am thankful for the support from Chairman Wicker on this issue and am hopeful that my Senate colleagues will pass this legislation to help our nation’s most vulnerable communities.”
The Connecting Minority Communities Act would:
- Codify the Minority Broadband Initiative by establishing the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at NTIA;
- Task MBI with working with Federal agencies to determine how to expand access to broadband and other digital opportunities in communities surrounding HBCUs/TCUs/HSIs; and work with HBCUs/TCUs/HSIs, state and local governments, the public, and stakeholders to expand broadband access and digital literacy in these communities;
- Establish a task force comprised of stakeholders from HBCU/TCU/HSI communities, state and local governments, and industry to advise the MBI;
- Create the 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 non-profit;
- Impose accountability measures for the Connected Minority Communities Pilot Program, such as audits and interagency coordination.
Click here to read the bill.