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What’s New in Civic Tech: How the CARES Act Helped Broadband

Plus, Seattle IT is now accepting applications for its long-standing Technology Matching Fund grants program, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center wins TIME 2020 invention award, and more.

by / November 19, 2020
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Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband research initiative has released a new brief that summarizes how state governments have used CARES Act funding to expand broadband access.

The brief — which can be found on Pew Charitable Trusts’ website now — contains findings that show states are largely using relief money to support initiatives like digital learning, telehealth services, public Wi-Fi and other infrastructure that relates to residential broadband. In the brief, readers can find specific examples of what states are doing, along with a broader national overview.

For example, the brief found that five states — Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon and Vermont — have used relief funds from the grants in the service of connectivity needs. Within that, Missouri sent $5.25 million in order to get hot spots for health and mental health centers. Vermont, meanwhile, put aside $9 million for health management programs such as outreach and education.

In addition, Missouri and Tennessee used CARES Act relief funds to help close broadband gaps as they relate to higher education. Twelve states used funds to help families with K-12 students buy Wi-Fi-enabled devices and hot spots. A lot of this funding and allocation was done by existing broadband programs. For states that did not have those types of programs — including Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire and South Carolina — CARES money went to establish emergency initiatives to help with broadband.

Broadband availability — and digital inclusion work in a broader sense — is an issue that was greatly exacerbated by the advent of COVID-19, which forced vital activities such as school, work and health care online in the name of social distancing. Many government agencies at the state and local levels have seen increased support, buy in and partnerships to help with this and adjacent issues.

Seattle IT Now Accepting Applications for Technology Matching Fund Grants

Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund grants program — one of the longest-running municipal digital inclusion initiatives in the country — is now open for applications for 2021.

Community groups and nonprofits can apply for grants that reach up to $25,000 each, for projects that work on challenges such as improving digital literacy, providing affordable devices or increasing access to free and low-cost Internet connectivity. One of the goals of the Technology Matching Fund is to award grant funding to projects that work directly with underrepresented communities in Seattle.

The concept behind the program is simple, requiring the projects to match city funds half-to-one via volunteer labor hours, materials, professional services or additional funding. The program has been running for decades, and past winners remain welcome to reapply. 

In addition, there are currently two online workshops scheduled to help guide would-be applicants through the Technology Matching Fund grant application process. These workshops are free, and they involve an overview of the program, an explanation of how to apply, and a guide for attendees to submit a successful application. The classes, however, are not required for applicants. The classes will, of course, be held online.

The first class is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Nov. 24, and the second class is slated for 11 a.m. on Dec. 5. Applications are due to the city by 5 p.m. on Jan. 12. 

More information about how to apply can be found on the Technology Matching Fund website.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center Wins Invention Award from TIME

Throughout the ongoing global pandemic, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has helped keep local government, as well as the general public, updated on virus-related data. Now, the platform has won inclusion in TIME’s list of the best inventions of 2020.

This is an invaluable set of data, and, as the magazine notes, most people have used it, or rather anyone who has “consulted a COVID-19 hot-spot map or noted the infection figures on the cable news crawl.”

The public health data platform joins a list of 100 total inventions, with others to be honored ranging from AR-guided surgery tech to new video game consoles. 

Norfolk, Va., Overhauls Open Data Portal

Finally, Norfolk, Va., has now launched an overhauled open data portal.

As the city noted on Twitter, this work involves “fresh mobile design and navigation features.” Chief among these is a new giant search bar that dominates the front of the homepage, colorful content tabs and an easy-to-use list of most popular info. 

This new open data portal can be found at data.norfolk.gov.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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