What’s New in Civic Tech: FCC Launches Broadband Data Effort

Plus, the NSF named 52 teams as Civic Innovation Challenge awardees; Anchorage, Alaska, launches a financial navigator to help residents impacted by the pandemic; and the USDR is offering pro-bono vaccine rollout support.

FCC-commissioner_rosenworcel
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established a task force dedicated to improving its broadband data and mapping tools, officials announced at the group’s Open Commisson Meeting, according to a press release that described the work as “long overdue.”

The move was made by Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who also named Jean Kiddoo as the chair of the effort, dubbed the Broadband Data Task Force. Rosenworcel also announced related senior staff members and gave an update on the FCC’s ongoing broadband data collection work.

The Broadband Data Task Force is a cross-agency effort to gather “detailed data and develop more precise maps about broadband availability,” Rosenworcel said. 

The FCC’s broadband data — as well as the resultant maps — have long been the subject of criticism, with advocates in the broadband and digital inclusion spaces saying they don’t get granular enough, among other things. In 2019, the FCC pledged to rework the maps following a request to do so by a bipartisan group of senators. Amid the absence of effective and acceptably accurate FCC mapping, other efforts have arisen to fill the void, specifically at the state government level. The data and mapping challenges within the commission have caused obstacles and questions for rural broadband funding efforts.

The new Broadband Data Task Force will coordinate with the FCC’s mapping and data collection efforts, doing so across several expert teams, including the Office of Economics and Analytics, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Wireline Competition Bureau, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, International Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology and Office of the Managing Director.

In the press release announcing the work, FCC officials also noted the importance of this coordination, writing, “Each of these teams is essential to the effort of ensuring the Commission, state and local governments, tribal entities and consumers will have access to granular nationwide information on the availability and quality of broadband services.”

NSF Names 52 Teams as Civic Innovation Challenge Awardees

The Civic Innovation Challenge — which is led by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in partnership with the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security — has named 52 teams to its list of Stage-1 awardees.

What that means is that the teams — spread across 30 states, as well as tribal regions, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. — will now receive $50,000 to refine their civic tech concepts over the course of the next four months. Once that time period ends, the NSF will next look to choose a set of Stage-2 awardees. These teams will get awards of as much as $1 million to support ready-to-implement pilot projects, which will have the potential to result in “scaleable, sustainable and transferable solutions to address community-identified challenges,” organizers wrote in a press release.

Each of the teams is made up of researchers on one side and civic partners on the other, the list of which includes local, state and tribal government officials, as well as nonprofit organization and community group leaders. The overarching idea of the civic innovation challenge is to help communities overcome challenges through research partnerships. As with many such programs in or adjacent to government, the broader hope is that work can benefit other similar jurisdictions.

The challenge is funded by $11 million from the federal government parents, and it is split into two tracks. The first track for this challenge is mobility. The second track is helping communities enhance their natural disaster resilience, a topic that is perhaps of great relevance this week as the vast majority of the state of Texas battles rolling blackouts and other challenges resulting from an atypical blast of winter weather.

Some of the involved projects in the first track are related to developing mobility hubs, testing microtransit concepts and developing analytical tools around transportation. The projects in the second track include helping communities both plan for and respond to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and wildfires.

The history of this challenge dates back to 2018. Interested particles can find the full list of awarded projects along with updates on progress on The Civic Innovation Challenge Web page.

Anchorage, Alaska, Launches Financial Pandemic Navigator Assistance

Anchorage, Alaska, has launched a new program called Financial Navigator, which aims to help residents do exactly what the name implies — navigate financial issues amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

What it is essentially is an online form that connects residents with an advisor, dubbed here a financial navigator. This results in a 30-minute session by phone, during which the financial navigators help residents prioritize any financial concerns, strategize about immediate action steps and find programs or services that can help them. 

The program is tailored to individuals, but it can involve some combination of prioritizing daily expenses, maximizing income, managing debt, avoiding predatory scams, receiving help from social services, budgeting for future loss of income and more. The program, of course, does not provide direct financial help by way of cash or loans. 

Interested parties can be part of the program by visiting the Financial Navigator website.

US Digital Response Is Still Offering Pro-Bono Vaccine Rollout Support

The U.S. Digital Response (USDR) — a nonprofit and nonpartisan group formed amid the pandemic to help connect volunteer technologists with government in order to address challenges related to COVID-19 — continues to offer pro-bono vaccine rollout support for communities.

Interested parties can find more information about this help on the USDR’s website. In short, some potential avenues for vaccine rollout support include data automation, interoperability and reporting; use of a COVID-19 vaccine website template; and a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine provider guide.

The website also features a list of resources and a mechanism for contacting the USDR in order to receive help.

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Civic Tech
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine