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Kansas Gets $15M in Digital Equity Funds from Feds

An official from the U.S. Treasury Department says that 20 other states have applied for similar funding, and more announcements are coming, “to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

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Net Inclusion 2023 in San Antonio saw 800 people attend the digital equity event, a significant increase over last year's attendance of 330.
Zack Quaintance/Government Technology
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The federal government awarded Kansas $15 million Tuesday for digital equity work, with the money to go toward public Wi-Fi, digital skills training and more, said a U.S. Treasury Department official.

In addition, 20 other states have applied for digital equity funding from the same source, with other awards expected to be made soon. Joseph Wender — director of the Treasury Department’s Capital Project Funds — announced the new funding Tuesday in San Antonio at Net Inclusion, the nation’s premiere annual gathering for those who work in the digital equity space.

“Kansas is just the first of many more to come,” Wender said, sparking a round of applause from a packed conference center ballroom, “and it will be to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The money was allocated to states for digital equity through the Capital Projects Fund, which is part of the American Rescue Plan. What makes Tuesday’s announcement significant is that the Kansas award is specifically for digital equity — and just digital equity, not broadband infrastructure, as is more common for grants of this size that involve digital inclusion.

As a point of comparison, the first broadband awards from the same source were made in June, nearly nine months before the Kansas award, the first of its own type. There is still time, Wender noted, for other states to apply for money from the same fund.

“You need to be talking to your governors’ offices and your broadband offices and telling them your ideas,” Wender said on stage at Net Inclusion, where more than 800 were in attendance, including many who work on digital equity for state, local or county governments.

The way the Capital Projects Fund was written into law, it leaves a lot of discretion to governors’ offices. As such, coordination is crucial to helping states obtain the available digital equity money, Wender advised.

“This digital equity piece of the Capital Projects Fund is just not one that’s been talked about a lot. It’s time to raise awareness that this is an eligible use,” Wender said.

As part of the announcement, he also stressed the importance of Congress continuing the Affordable Connectivity Program, a move he called “imperative.”

Net Inclusion began Tuesday morning. Hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), the event dates back to 2016, but it has never seen attendance numbers like this year. More than 800 people gathered for it in San Antonio, a steep increase from last year, when 330 attended. The NDIA had to expand registration in advance to meet spiking demand.

This increase in attendance of the event is perhaps a bellwether for digital inclusion efforts in the U.S. generally. Whereas 10 years ago, the space was modest — primarily led by community groups, libraries, and a few advocates — it has experienced rapid growth since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Essentially, when the pandemic forced everyone to conduct business — or school, or health care — from their homes, inequities in who had Internet access were laid bare.

As a result, the past three years have been ones of immense growth for digital inclusion work. Attendees from the event came from many different sources, including the public sector, private sector, nonprofit world, academia and more.

Net Inclusion is slated to continue through Thursday.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.