What’s New in Civic Tech: Seattle Invests in Digital Equity

Plus, a Brookings Institution report finds more than 19 million American households lack broadband; NYC picks cybersecurity finalists; Washington, D.C., announces three finalists for DCx contest; and more.

Seattle is investing $320,000 in community-led projects aimed at increasing digital literacy in the city. 

The mechanism for this is the longstanding Technology Matching Fund, which will facilitate grants to 11 community projects working to increase residents’ access to tech and digital skills training. The recipients of the money are a varied and diverse group, including a program that offers kids with disabilities and English-language learners training in sound and multimedia technologies. Other recipients include a computer lab that serves low-income and homeless people, a career-training program in Web design and coding for low-income women of color, and a digital literacy curriculum for people with disabilities.  

These organizations were picked from among 47 applicants, and city officials estimate that their efforts will reach 3,000 residents, many of whom are immigrants, refugees, homeless residents, senior citizens, youth and people with disabilities. 

The fund awards up to $50,000 to nonprofit groups engaged in work that can foster digital equity. The money from the city is matched at 50 percent — both in cash and in-kind contributions of things like labor and equipment.  

The Technology Matching Fund — and the money given out within it — is also part of a broader Digital Equity Initiative in the city. It was created back in 1997, and, over the years, it has given out more than $5 million to more than 300 community tech projects.

More info about the Technology Matching Fund can be found here.

Brookings Institution: More Than 19 Million American Households Lack Broadband

The Brookings Institution, which is a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C., has issued a new analysis about the importance of broadband connectivity for the entire country.

Citing statistics that show that more than 19 million Americans lack broadband access — both mobile and in-home — the group compared that daily reality to if the 2003 Northeast blackout was happening all day, every day. 

“Simply put, the country needs to make an aggressive case to reach universal broadband adoption,” Brookings wrote in its analysis. 

The report went on to emphasize that lacking access to broadband would disrupt nearly every facet of the lives of most people. Work time, leisure time, and even personal relationships would change without that connectivity. 

The impact of broadband gaps, Brookings also noted, is not nearly as understood as the lack of other utilities like electricity or water. In fact, one of the central thrusts of the new analysis is that there is a widespread misunderstanding of how life is different due to lack of broadband.

“With communities all across the country exploring ways to overcome the digital divide,” Brookings wrote, “and with Congress sending clear signals about the importance to address rural disconnect, now is an opportune time to help policymakers and practitioners understand the benefits of pursuing new infrastructure, public policies, and training programs. For us, that process begins with understanding where the current state of knowledge is clear and where it falls short.”

Brookings' full analysis is available online here.

In related news, The Daily Yonder — a publication that covers rural America — recently published a similar analysis noting that lack of broadband is not simply a rural issue. It’s actually a national issue that communities everywhere must address.  

New York City Picks Cybersecurity Contest Finalists 

New York City has announced 18 finalists for its NYCx Cybersecurity Moonshot Challenge, which is a global cybersecurity competition hosted by the city.

At stake for these finalists, which were culled from 169 total proposals, are a pair of awards. First, 11 of the 18 finalists will compete for venture capital, specifically for investment by Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP). Outside of that, seven of the finalists will get a $10,000 award to test their proposals in the city and possibly partner with the local government on delivering their solutions to small businesses there. Agencies collaborating on this contest include the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and NYC Cyber Command. 

Those finalists will also get structured support as they work to bring their solutions to the international market. 

In a press release announcing the finalists, the city described the Moonshot Challenge as “a key component” of its Cyber NYC initiative, which is a $100 million public-private investment in making New York the global hub of cybersecurity innovation. 

In addition to JVP, the city has assembled a number of other international partners presumably to help participants thrive internationally while furthering New York’s own global hub ambitions.

Those partners include government organizations from Israel, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Berlin, Helsinki, London and Paris. 

More info about Cyber NYC can be found here.

Washington, D.C., Announces Three Semi-Finalists for DCx Contest

Washington, D.C., has announced three semi-finalists for phase two of its DCx challenge, which is a contest that asks for proposals of ways that public safety and public health technology can benefit from 5G.

The competition is the work of the DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) and its partners, who have invited local developers, engineers and innovators to participate. The competition is two-phased. The first was a reverse pitch competition, where competitors submitted proof of concepts for gigabit apps that address public safety or public health challenges.

The second phase will see the three semi-finalists advancing their concepts and building prototypes as they vie for a chance to capture as many as two final awards. These semi-finalists will split $14,500 in award funds, with the finalist or finalists getting $20,000.   

As part of the competition, participants have access to mentors and subject matter experts who offer advice. Funding for the awards is made possible by the city’s partnership with US Ignite and the Smart Gigabit Communities, which is itself funded by the National Science Foundation.

More info about this competition can be found online here.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine