THE SENATE

S.B. NO.

501

THIRTY-SECOND LEGISLATURE, 2023

 

STATE OF HAWAII

 

 

 

 

 

 

A BILL FOR AN ACT

 

 

relating to digital equity.

 

 

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF HAWAII:

 


SECTION 1. The legislature finds that digital equity across the State and in every community is essential to the well-being and economic realities of the State's residents. The need for digital equity is significant, highlighted by the devastating impacts of the recent coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. The lack of digital equity has had a tremendous negative effect in many areas, but particularly socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

The legislature further finds that digital equity has meant the difference between an employee being able to work remotely or possibly facing unemployment. Additionally, digital literacy and broadband access are critical tools for those seeking to access social services such as unemployment claims, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, vital records, and other essential government, educational, and medical services.

The legislature further finds that digital equity in the State would enhance Hawaii' s overall economic development, education, health care, and emergency services. Making grants available to achieve digital equity in disadvantaged populations would move the State toward universal access to broadband services.

The legislature strongly supports efforts to improve digital equity for residents, consumers, and businesses across the State.

The purpose of this Act is to identify and address any remaining obstacles to digital equity to all areas of the State by establishing the digital equity grant program to award grants and create a condition in which all individuals and communities in the State have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in society, democracy, and the economy.

SECTION 2. The Hawaii Revised Statutes is amended by adding a new chapter to title 13 be appropriately designated and to read as follows:

"Chapter

Digital equity grant program

   -1 Definitions. As used in this chapter:

"Broadband" means high-speed internet.

"Covered household" means a household, the income of which for the most recently completed year is not more than two hundred per cent of an amount equal to the poverty level, as determined by using criteria of poverty established by the Bureau of the Census.

"Covered populations" means:

(1) Individuals who live in covered households;

(2) Individuals aged sixty years and older;

(3) Incarcerated individuals, other than individuals who are incarcerated in a federal correctional facility;

(4) Veterans;

(5) Individuals with disabilities;

(6) Individuals with a language barrier, including individuals who:

(A) Are English learners; and

(B) Have low levels of literacy;

(7) Individuals who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group;

(8) Individuals who primarily reside in a rural area; and

(9) Homeless or unsheltered individuals.

"Department" means the department of business, economic development, and tourism.

"Digital equity" means a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in society, democracy, and the economy.

"Digital equity services" means a service that increases digital literacy and broadband access in covered populations.

"Office" means the department's Hawaii broadband and digital equity office.

"Program" means the digital equity grant program established by this chapter.

"Project" means a proposed digital equity project set forth in an application for grant funding authorized under this chapter.

"Project area" means an area that is proposed to be covered in an application for grant funding authorized under this chapter.

   -2 Digital equity grant program; establishment. There is established a digital equity grant program which shall be placed within the Hawaii broadband and digital equity office of the department for administrative purposes. The office shall receive and review grant applications and may award grants for eligible projects pursuant to the program.

   -3 Eligible projects. The office may award grants for eligible projects; provided that on the date the application is submitted, the area to be served by the project shall include covered populations.

   -4 Eligible applicants. To be eligible for a grant, an applicant shall be preferably a non-governmental entity with demonstrated experience in providing digital equity services to covered populations. Governmental agencies may apply, and will be evaluated on a case to case basis.

   -5 Applications. (a) The office shall establish an annual time period to commence an open process for submission of applications for funding under the program. The time period for submission shall be no less than sixty days and no more than ninety days.

(b) The form of the application shall be as prescribed by the office and shall include:

(1) Evidence demonstrating the applicant's experience and ability to plan, organize, staff, and deliver digital equity services to covered populations within the State;

(2) A description of the project area and covered population to be served;

(3) A description of the digital equity project that is proposed to be deployed, including specific goals to increase digital literacy and broadband access, methods, metrics, facilities; equipment, staff, and resources;

(4) A plan to tailor public awareness and outreach to include non-English speaking covered populations with consideration for linguistic, cultural, generational, and literacy challenges;

(5) Evidence, including certification from the applicant, demonstrating the nature of the current digital inequity in the proposed project area and covered population;

(6) The number of people in each covered population that would gain access to broadband service as a result of the project;

(7) The total cost and timeline for completion of the project;

(8) The amount of matching funds that the applicant proposes to contribute and a certification that no portion of the matching funds are derived from any state government grant, loan, or subsidy;

(9) Evidence demonstrating the economic feasibility of the project;

(10) A list of all expected government authorizations, permits, and other approvals required for the project and a timeline for the applicant's acquisition of the approvals;

(11) A certification that no other federal or state program provides funding that is available to the applicant for the project; and

(12) Any other information deemed necessary by the office.

   -6 Review of applications; confidential treatment; approval. (a) Within five business days following the last day of the time period for submission of applications to the program, the office shall make all the applications available for review in a publicly available electronic file posted on the office's or department's website.

(b) To the extent the information in an application or challenge falls under one or more of the exceptions to public disclosure in section 92F-13 or comprises commercially sensitive information, the office shall keep the information confidential upon request by:

(1) An applicant for confidential treatment of an application, except that in no event shall a request for confidentiality prevent the publicly available portion of the application from including sufficient evidence to demonstrate the requirements of section    ‑5(b)(2) and    -5(b)(5); or

(2) A challenging applicant for confidential treatment of a challenge submitted pursuant to this section.

(c) In reviewing applications and any accompanying challenge, the office shall review the proposed projects to ensure that all awarded funds are used to deploy digital equity projects to covered populations.

(d) The office shall award program grants based on a scoring system that shall be released to the public at least thirty days prior to the first day of the time period for the submission of applications. The scoring system shall give the highest weight or priority to the following:

(1) Projects proposing to serve larger covered populations, with consideration to projects proposing to serve smaller, difficult to access and/or neglected covered populations;

(2) Applicants with more experience and technical ability to successfully deploy digital equity projects to covered populations, and more financial or other resources available to assist the project;

(3) Projects for which fewer government funds and less support are necessary to deploy digital equity in an economically feasible manner;

(4) Projects with a higher amount of matching funds proposed to be committed by the applicant;

(5) Projects that do not duplicate any existing digital equity project in the project area; and

(6) Other factors the office determines to be reasonable, appropriate, and consistent with the purpose of facilitating the deployment of digital equity projects to covered populations.

   -7 Hawaii broadband and digital equity office authority. The office may:

(1) Following notice and an opportunity to cure, require disgorgement of grant funds in response to an applicant's pattern of failure to achieve digital equity goals in accordance with the timelines and milestones set forth in its application;

(2) Consider an applicant's financial ability to complete the project proposed in an application;

(3) Make reasonable requests for information necessary for the oversight and administration of any project funded pursuant to this chapter;

(4) Impose any new or additional regulatory requirements on grant recipients, through grant agreements or any other mechanism, in addition to the program implementation rules expressly authorized in this chapter; and

(5) Deny or cancel a project if the office finds the project will impact federal funding opportunities.

   -8 Rules. (a) The department shall adopt rules pursuant to chapter 91 to effectuate the purposes of this chapter.

(b) The rules shall:

(1) Include reasonable oversight and reporting provisions to ensure that grant moneys are used as intended; and

(2) Not impose any financial penalty or liquidated damages provisions or provisions that are not reasonably related to the deployment of digital equity programs in the State in accordance with this chapter."

SECTION 3. Within six months following the effective date of this Act, the department of business, economic development, and tourism shall adopt rules pursuant to chapter 91 and section    -8, Hawaii Revised Statutes, to implement the digital equity grant program; provided that any rules adopted pursuant to this section shall include rules regarding the submission, review, and approval of applications; administration of the projects funded; and grant agreements memorializing the award of funds.

SECTION 4. There is appropriated out of the general revenues of the State of Hawaii the sum of $5,000,000 or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2023-2024 and the same sum or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2024-2025 for the digital equity grant program established by this Act.

The sums appropriated shall be expended by the department of business, economic development, and tourism for the purposes of this Act.

SECTION 5. This Act shall take effect on July 1, 2023.

 

INTRODUCED BY:

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Report Title:

Digital Equity Grant Program; Digital Literacy; Broadband Access; Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism; Hawaii Broadband and Digital Equity Office; Appropriation

 

Description:

Establishes the Digital Equity Grant Program to award grants to applicants to deploy digital equity projects to covered populations in the State. Appropriates funds.

 

 

 

The summary description of legislation appearing on this page is for informational purposes only and is not legislation or evidence of legislative intent.