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What’s New in Civic Tech: 2021 Digital Inclusion Trailblazers

Plus, North Carolina unveils its new state Office of Digital Equity and Literacy; San Jose, Calif., announces a new donation adding up to a $250,000 boost for its San Jose Digital Inclusion Fund; and more.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has released its list of NDIA Digital Inclusion Trailblazers for 2021, highlighting a set of local governments doing exemplary work in the areas of digital equity, digital literacy and fostering broadband access for underserved residents.

The full list of cities can be found on the NDIA's announcement page. The list includes 17 honorees versus 14 from last year. There are returning cities — such as Austin, Texas; Boston; Long Beach, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Louisville, Ky.; Provo, Utah; Salt Lake City; Detroit; and New York City — as well as newcomers, such as Baltimore, Detroit and Kansas City, Mo. In addition, the combined city and county jurisdictions of San Francisco as well as Chattanooga and Hamilton County, Tenn., are both back this year.

The effort — first launched in 2016 — has evolved over the years to a system in which the criteria for the designation is based on six indicators. Those indicators are whether local gov has full-time staff dedicated to digital inclusion; a digital inclusion plan within local government; local government representatives in a digital inclusion coalition; survey research on Internet access within communities; direct funding for digital inclusion programming; and steps to increase affordability of broadband service.

More information about the work of each of these trailblazers can be found on the NDIA website. Digital equity and inclusion have been particularly prominent topics in the past 18 months given the global pandemic that has limited in-person government services. Many local governments have done great, agile work to put their services online, but that doesn't mean a whole lot for residents who lack Internet access, devices or the skills to use the first two in meaningful ways.

As a result, many government employees in the digital inclusion space — as well as those who work in organizations adjacent to it — say there is a new surge of both interest and financing for the work, as society in a broader sense has come to understand the importance of connecting all of its members to the Internet, as well as in training individuals on how to use it. (Zack Quaintance)


North Carolina has announced the creation of the state's Office of Digital Equity and Literacy, which will aim to expand digital literacy efforts there.

The office is part of the Division of Broadband and Digital Equity within the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT), and will be led by Jeremy Collins, who led a related initiative to increase broadband access with Hometown Strong. NCDIT’s former chief of staff, Nate Denny, will serve as the deputy secretary of broadband and digital equity.

Additional functions that the office will carry out include leading the Digital Equity and Inclusion Collaborative and promoting the NC Digital Inclusion Playbook for municipalities.

The creation of this office follows the May 2021 announcement of a plan for North Carolina to put over $1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds toward bridging the state’s digital divide by 2025. The plan includes $165 million for efforts to achieve digital equity and literacy. (Julia Edinger)


San Jose, Calif., has announced that a $250,000 donation from the Adobe Foundation will go toward the San Jose Digital Inclusion Fund.

The fund is a $24 million public-private partnership that seeks to close the city’s digital divide. Since its inception, it has done a variety of work, including helping to connect thousands of San Jose students to reliable Internet.

This donation will target the fund’s digital literacy efforts specifically, as educating city residents on how to use digital tools is a vital piece of closing the divide.

“Access doesn’t simply mean connectivity and availability of devices — we must also provide the education to use technology,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in the announcement.

The city’s efforts to close the divide have been ongoing. Through a combination of initiatives and programs, the city is on target to connect over 300,000 residents by the end of 2022.

More information about the Fund’s development, goals and funding structure can be found on its website. (Julia Edinger)
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.