The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) launched a new broadband initiative dubbed the Minority Broadband Initiative (MBI), that will focus on “solving broadband deployment challenges in vulnerable communities.”

MBI said Nov. 15 it will specifically target helping Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to advance broadband connectivity on their campuses and surrounding communities.

“NTIA’s initiative will work with connected HBCUs, or ‘Smart HBCUs,’ to promote them as hubs of digital applications and innovation, and ensure their inclusion and awareness of broadband deployment grant opportunities,” NTIA said in a press release. “The MBI also will seek to partner with Federal agencies, local governments, and the private sector to lay the groundwork for extensive expansion of broadband networks across HBCU campuses and throughout the rural South.”

In its report on the new initiative, NTIA said it is targeting HBCUs because they function as “community anchor institutions,” and allow NTIA to “leverage minority stakeholder engagement in finding new opportunities for broadband deployment.” Additionally, it said “HBCUs offer specific programmatic advantages, including supporting economic growth and competitiveness in anchor communities through high capacity broadband networks and connectivity.”

According to NTIA, MBI is focused on achieving two policy objectives:

  • “Convening a forum where stakeholders can explore options for leveraging HBCU broadband infrastructure to connect neighboring communities of vulnerable populations; and
  • Using broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for adoption that will result in job growth and economic development and deployment of advanced mobile technologies primarily in the economically distressed communities of the rural South.”

Initially, MBI will look to create a Smart HBCU Task Force, which will “raise awareness of advancements around next-generation wireless services including 5G, and the role that HBCUs could play in their deployment.”

The task force will be led by NTIA and include HBCU Presidents and Chief Information Officers, representatives from the National Association for Equal Opportunity, the United Negro College Fund, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund; private sector stakeholders, including companies and representatives from the wireline and wireless trade associations; experts from academia, nonprofits, institutes, the Bi-Partisan HBCU Caucus, and the White House Initiative on HBCU Interagency Working Group. The task force will also work with the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, the Joint NTIA/U.S. Department of Agriculture Broadband Council, and the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development National Coordination Office.

NTIA said that “such a crosscutting body will provide objective and comprehensive policy insight and expertise to drive its efforts.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.