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Remarks by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the National Housing Conference's Tech and Housing Online Symposium


Hello everyone!

Thank you, David, for that introduction and for your remarkable leadership in affordable housing.

As we recover from the pandemic, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to building back a better, more equitable economy where no one is left behind.

Toward that aim, we’re committed to closing the digital divide and getting all Americans connected to reliable, high-speed broadband.

We all know that broadband is an essential component of housing infrastructure.

After all, these days a home isn’t just a roof over your head. It can be an office, a classroom, or where you meet your doctor.

In the 21st century economy, broadband and high-speed internet isn’t a luxury – it’s essential to everyday life.

The COVID pandemic exposed how vital connectivity is for our healthcare, jobs, and education.

Many businesses had to move their operations online and schools had to switch to remote learning.

But for too many Americans living in underserved communities, lack of affordable internet meant that students couldn’t attend online classes.

It meant shops and restaurants that didn’t have an online presence went out of business.

In fact, estimates show that 30 million Americans lack reliable or affordable broadband – disproportionately those who are non-white and low-income.

That’s why the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal makes historic investments of more than $65 billion for broadband deployment grants to help states connect unserved and underserved communities.

Commerce is central to that deployment.

Through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, we are managing three broadband-funding programs.

Combined, these programs invest about $1.5 billion to get high-speed, affordable internet to communities across the country that need it most.

The application period recently closed for two of the programs − one focused on infrastructure buildouts and the other focused on expanding broadband to tribal lands.

We received hundreds of applications for these programs, totaling more than $7.5 billion in requested funding.

That’s more than seven times what Congress appropriated, and it signals intense demand, and need, for broadband investments.

We’re doing all we can to get the broadband infrastructure built as quickly as possible.

But closing the digital divide isn’t just about physical infrastructure.

It’s also about digital inclusion and equipping new users with the education and tools they need to tap into the benefits of broadband and become literate in digital technology.

It’s about helping small businesses owners break into e-commerce for the first time so they can grow their enterprise.

And it’s about helping affordable housing residents finally gain access to job training, virtual schooling, and the entire digital economy.

It’s time to make these long-overdue investments in our communities – because our economy can’t fully recover until everyone can fully participate.

As more services and tools migrate online, access to broadband will accelerate advancements in communities that need them most.

And that’s where you come in.

At Commerce, we can empower you to become local ambassadors for digital skills training that benefit both residents and operators of housing facilities.

There are numerous options that residents in affordable housing can take advantage of − from internet service provider discounts to subsidies from the Federal Communications Commission.

And you can partner with local libraries or other organizations that offer digital skills training to residents.

But navigating the options can feel daunting for people who are new to digital technology – and that’s why we need to work together to get everyone up to speed.

And when it comes to applying for grants, I assure you, our team at NTIA is here to guide you every step of the way.

We offer resources through our Broadband USA program to help communities makes sense of federal funding options and find the right programs to meet their needs.

We also collaborate with agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development to promote broadband in multi-family and public housing.

And that’s just a start.

As you build affordable housing around the country, think about broadband early in the process.

If you want residents to be a part of a modern, equitable society, these homes need to be connected and ready for the technology of today and tomorrow.

There’s so much we can do to close the digital divide and promote digital inclusion – if we work together.

So please stay in touch with us at the Commerce Department.

We’re committed to bringing the full weight of our resources to bear so that all Americans can access the broadband they need to participate in the 21st century economy.

And I look forward to your partnership in that effort.

Thank you, and with that I’ll turn it back to David.