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What's New in Civic Tech: Senate Confirms New FCC Chair

Plus, Illinois Tech team develops environmentally sound digital currency; the National League of Cities unveils a new digital equity playbook; Washington approves $44.6 million of broadband grants; and more.

FCC-commissioner_rosenworcel
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
The U.S. Senate has confirmed Jessica Rosenworcel as the chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

With a vote of 68 to 3`1 this week, the Senate vote came weeks before Rosenworcel's current term was set to expire. Rosenworcel has served as acting chair of the FCC since President Biden took office. Her confirmation means there are four serving commissioners at the FCC, split evenly along party lines.

"It's the honor of my lifetime to lead the FCC and serve as the first permanent female Chair," Rosenworcel wrote in a tweet. "Thank you to the President and Senate for entrusting me with this responsibility."

Rosenworcel has served as a commissioner with the FCC dating back to 2011, when she was nominated by President Barack Obama. In her recent stint as acting chair, she has pushed efforts to fight robocalls. She is also a vocal supporter of digital equity work, specifically as it applies to closing the homework gap, which refers to some students not having equitable access to online resources and the Internet.

At present, the Senate is still considering another Biden nominee, Gigi Sohn, for the fifth commissioner position. If approved, Sohn would give Democrats a 3 to 2 majority at the top of the FCC. (Zack Quaintance)

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES RELEASES DIGITAL EQUITY PLAYBOOK


Today, the National League of Cities (NLC) released the Digital Equity Playbook, a report examining how city leaders can help to improve digital equity. The playbook examines factors that cause the digital divide and examines the digital equity landscape. In addition, it offers recommendations, stories from local governments on their strategies, funding opportunities and other resources.

Primary causes of the divide, according to the report, are affordability, accessibility and skills. Currently, there are an estimated 42 million residents in the U.S. without broadband. With over 30 case studies, the playbook acts as a tool to help local leaders assess what strategies might work best in their own communities — from programmatic solutions to investing in partnerships.

“The Digital Equity Playbook walks leaders through a four-step process about how to get started with digital equity,” Angelina Panettieri, NLC’s information technology and communications legislative director said in a virtual webinar Thursday.

The first step is conducting a community needs assessment, a subject that NLC will be exploring more deeply in January 2022. (Julia Edinger)

ILLINOIS TECH TEAM WINS INNOVATION PRIZE FOR ENERGY-EFFICIENT DIGITAL CURRENCY


A team of students at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) has won an innovation prize for a project that aims to create an energy-efficient digital currency.

That award, specifically, is the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize, and it calls on the students at the Chicago school to find creative solutions to pressing global challenges. As digital currencies have begun to disrupt economic projections, a key point of contention among detractors has been the impact they have on the environment.

“Digital currencies like Bitcoin are here to stay, but they currently have a disproportionate carbon footprint and slow transaction speeds,” said Gabriel Bryk, the student leader of the winning team in a press release. “Our new digital currency GiGi, Green lightnInG coIn, increases transaction throughput through larger blocks with smaller block times and achieves energy efficiency on par with centralized solutions using an improved proof-of-space algorithm leveraging XSearch to secure the digital currency.” (Zack Quaintance)

NEW DATA DASHBOARD TRACKS RESCUE FUND SPENDING AT LOCAL LEVELS


A new data dashboard is tracking how cities, counties and tribal communities are spending federal recovery funds.

The project — dubbed the ARP Data and Evidence Dashboard — is a collaboration between Results for America and Mathematica. It's a robust platform, highlighting how government agencies at these levels are investing American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, as well as how they are using data, tracking outcomes of the investments, engaging with members of the public and building equity into the work.

The ARP is giving $350 billion worth of state and local recovery funds to communities, with counties getting as much as $65.1 billion and cities that have populations above 250,000 getting $45.6 billion.

“The dashboard spotlights how innovative local leaders are seizing this historic opportunity and using evidence and data to accelerate economic mobility and racial equity,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and co-founder of Results for America, in a statement. “We hope this tool will help policymakers at every level of government increase the impact of these once-in-a-generation investments.” (Zack Quaintance)

WASHINGTON COMMUNITIES AWARDED $44.6 MILLION FOR BROADBAND PROJECTS


During the Washington state Public Works Board meeting held Dec. 3, $44.6 million in grants were approved to support 15 broadband-related projects across the state. The funding is available through the federal Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. The Public Works Board was initially directed to establish a grant and loan program through the passage of Second Substitute Senate Bill 5511 (2S SB 5511) in order to expand Internet access to unserved areas of the state.

The applicants that were awarded conditional funding for their projects last week are Kittitas County, port of Clarkston, Lewis County PUD, Lincoln County, port of Clarkston, town of Skykomish, Jefferson County PUD, port of Columbia, Clallam County, Pacific County PUD, Lewis County PUD, port of Garfield, port of Skagit, port of Coupeville and town of Washtucna.

Demand from these applicants exceeded available funds by over 200 percent, so not all applicants’ projects were awarded funding. For more information on the projects, visit the Public Works Board’s 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.