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What’s New in Civic Tech: NYC to Connect 1.6M Web Users by 2024

Plus, applications for the U.S. Digital Corps will open soon, the Knight Foundation makes a significant commitment to Detroit’s digital equity work, and Denice Ross is the new U.S. chief data scientist.

People crossing a busy street in New York City.
Shutterstock/oneinchpunch
New York City has laid out a plan to connect 1.6 million of the city’s residents to high-speed Internet.

The timeline for this plan spans the next 36 months, and the general idea of it is to use $157 million to build a public-owned, open-access broadband infrastructure in the city. This plan will also range across sectors, seeing the city team with a variety of companies of different sizes. As the city notes in its announcement, the goal is “to provide fast, reliable, and affordable connectivity options.”

This all ties into New York City’s ongoing digital equity efforts, as laid out in the NYC Internet Master Plan. In-process work includes bringing free or low-cost Internet connections to the residents of 18 New York City Housing Authority developments by the end of this calendar year. Once completed, the city reports that this will mean a majority of public housing residents in the jurisdiction will have affordable connectivity choices, with additional options existing to scale affordable broadband to more neighborhoods.

These plans represent some of the most thorough digital equity actions in the country, with digital equity and inclusion meaning work to reverse long-time digital redlining that has happened in many U.S. communities. This sort of work has existed for many years, rising in prominence as life and society have migrated increasingly to online, digital realms.

The past 18 months or so since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic have supercharged governmental digital equity work. Following many years of community groups and nonprofits working on the front lines of digital equity, government had started to wade into the same waters. The pandemic, however, forced an acceleration, as school children in particular became a group that state and local governments worked hard to connect, doing so by teaming with philanthropic organizations as well as private companies.

New York City’s Internet Master Plan was first announced in January of 2020. The plan — which remains one of the most comprehensive digital equity efforts published by a local government — noted that roughly 29 percent of New York City households lacked broadband Internet at home, while other households didn’t even have a means for mobile connectivity.

“This means close to 3.4 million residents had been excluded partially or entirely from modern life,” New York officials wrote in the announcement. “The Internet Master Plan is accelerating broadband deployment to address racial inequities by prioritizing public housing communities, which have previously suffered from decades of digital redlining.” (Zack Quaintance)

FIRST U.S. DIGITAL CORPS APPLICATIONS OPENING SOON


The first-ever round of applications for the newly announced U.S. Digital Corps are set to open soon, with a go-live date of Monday, Nov. 8.

This opening date is especially relevant, because as the program’s web page notes, organizers “strongly encourage candidates to submit on the day applications open.” There is also a note that the application process may close early, which likely means that if a flood of applications arrive, the entire process will be wrapped up quickly, potentially in a matter of hours or days. Only 300 total applications will be accepted.

Applicants can choose between five work tracts, with those being software engineering; data science and analytics; product management; design; and cybersecurity. The website advises would-be applicants to have all of their application materials prepped in advance of the application going live. Eligibility requirements include being a U.S. citizen or national; being able to start work for the federal government in late June; willingness to submit to a government background check; and more. More information about this application process can be found on the U.S. Digital Corps website.

This program was first announced this year, and, for the uninitiated, it aims to recruit tech talent to government work, doing so by enrolling them in a new two-year fellowship program for early career technologists.

The U.S. Digital Corps program is housed within the U.S. General Services Administration, and — as is the case with many gov tech and civic tech programs — the idea is that talented young folks will get a taste of using their talents in meaningful service work, a taste that will inspire them throughout their careers moving forward. At the same time, they’ll help federal government agencies tackle prominent challenges, making the situation beneficial for both government partners and individuals who go to work with them. (Zack Quaintance)

KNIGHT FOUNDATION COMMITS $750K TO DIGITAL EQUITY IN DETROIT


A commitment of $750,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is expected to expand Internet access in Detroit’s North End, a historically underserved neighborhood in the city.

The Knight Foundation announced this investment to support the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII)’s efforts to bridge Detroit’s digital divide. Over a three-year period, the funding will help EII quadruple a pilot project that is bringing high-speed Internet to 215 area homes.

The investment will help train 18 community members to act as “digital stewards,” working to set up networks and offering technical support for residents. The objective is to connect 1,000 households in the North End in three years, enabling them to access the digital services necessary to participating in the digital economy — from employment to education to health care. (Julia Edinger)

DENICE ROSS TO SERVE AS NEXT U.S. CHIEF DATA SCIENTIST


Denice Ross will serve as the next U.S. chief data scientist, a role that is housed within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Ross is a well-known expert in the area of public interest tech, having previously been affiliated with prominent groups in the space such as New America and the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation. Ross has also previously served in the federal government, doing so during the Obama administration as a senior adviser for community solutions within the White House Office of Management and Budget. Ross posted a blog this week with her perspective on rejoining federal service.

In the blog, Ross writes that the mission of her new position is to “responsibly unleash the power of data to benefit all Americans.” She also noted that she plans to collaborate with data innovators who are already working in state and local government, as well as at the federal level.

The post was previously occupied by DJ Patil, who took up the position in 2015 upon its creation. Patil departed in early 2017, and the chief data scientist position was vacant throughout the Trump administration. (Zack Quaintance)
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.
Associate editor for <i>Government Technology</i> magazine