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What's New in Digital Equity: Chicago Launches Digital Equity Council

Plus, the NTIA introduces a tribal broadband planning toolkit; a new online tool helps communities find opportunities for broadband funding; a new database tracks state-level broadband legislation; and more.

Photograph of Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago
Chicago has announced a new digital equity council. Dubbed the Chicago Digital Equity Council, it was born out of the Chicago Connected program, which was expanded in 2021. The new council will build on the digital inclusion efforts in the public school space accomplished through that program.

This announcement comes as experts see a national trend of cities increasing their focus on achieving digital equity, as the COVID-19 pandemic has put a greater responsibility on local government to engage in the effort.

For Chicago, about one-fifth of households are without Internet, and over 12 percent are without computers. On average, the communities with the lowest rates of connectivity are over 90 percent Black. The city is leveraging funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to address this divide.

The Digital Equity Council will engage the community to address the digital divide through digital, written and in-person channels, offering events in English and Spanish to enable participation for people from diverse backgrounds. The council will be led by community leaders, community-based organizations, government entities and digital equity experts. This cross-sector group is known as the council’s guiding team, bringing representation to include diverse voices in the effort.

“In order to solve a systemic issue like access to affordable Internet, it is essential to partner with community members who are most impacted,” said Candace Moore, city of Chicago’s chief equity officer in the announcement. “I'm excited by the diverse expertise on the Digital Equity Council and am confident they will help lead our city to a more equitable future."

The council will lead a series of community conversations throughout the next six months, focusing on barriers, resources and the collaborative creation of solutions.

The first conversation will be in Englewood on June 25. Community member participants will receive a $25 gift card for their attendance. Information about other community conversations, including one for people with disabilities, will be coming soon. Those who are unable to attend the sessions can also share their experiences or other comments through the city’s website, where more information about the work of the council is available. (Julia Edinger)

NEW ONLINE TOOLKIT HELPS COMMUNITIES FIND BROADBAND FUNDING


In order to help support communities as they navigate the federal grant opportunities available for broadband expansion and smart city projects, US Ignite has launched the Federal Funding Opportunity Tool. Announced last week, the tool is intended to help municipal leaders get access to the funding available to them.

Those who are familiar with federal funding programs can search funding proposals in the database. Those who would like additional guidance can use the Opportunity Wizard to answer five questions about the project they hope to fund — for example, “Does your project include a research component?” Potential funding opportunities and additional information will then be available to users.

The free tool was developed to build on the nonprofit’s Federal Funding Opportunities database, a resource which was made possible through funding from the Knight Foundation. (Julia Edinger)

CHECK OUT THIS DATABASE OF STATE BROADBAND LEGISLATION


With broadband support and regulation rapidly evolving as the country's power structures have started to recognize high-speed Internet as a utility, many states are passing new legislation related to broadband. And now, there's a new database tracking information about these laws.

This database is the work of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), and it's built in a way that allows users to search by state.

"In the 2022 legislative session, 41 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have pending and enacted legislation addressing broadband in issue areas such as educational institutions and schools, dig once, funding, governance authorities and commissions, infrastructure, municipal-run broadband networks, rural and underserved communities, smart communities and taxes," the NCSL writes on the database home page. "Sixteen jurisdictions enacted legislation or adopted resolutions: Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia."

The database is broken into four fields: state, bill number, bill summary and issue area, with new bills being added rapidly as states seek to shape the way broadband is being funded, developed and regulated in their regions. (Zack Quaintance)

NEW FCC PROPOSAL WOULD HELP FUND SCHOOL BUS WI-FI


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is circulating a ruling that makes Wi-Fi on school buses eligible for E-rate funding, Rosenworcel tweeted this week. This move would essentially make it so kids could use Wi-Fi while riding buses to and from school, boosting their access to high-speed Internet.

The E-rate program, which is central to this effort, allows eligible schools, libraries and consortia to request federal funding in order to offer broadband. Rosenworcel also noted that over the years the FCC has received many requests to make school bus Wi-Fi eligible for E-rate support. This would give bus Wi-Fi another boost after the federal Emergency Connectivity Fund committed more than $35 million to it. (Zack Quaintance)

CODE FOR AMERICA’S GETCTC PORTAL IS OPEN FOR 2022


Last year, Code for America (CfA) released GetCTC.org, a resource designed to help families that qualify for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) navigate the complex tax system. This week, CfA announced that the portal would be opened for the second year to help more families get access to the CTC and other tax-related benefits.

The platform uses direct prompts to guide users through the applicable criteria to receive the benefits for which they are eligible. To increase accessibility, the free portal is available in English and Spanish on both mobile and desktop devices. In addition to the portal, CfA is launching an outreach effort to work with state benefits agencies to increase the number of platform users.

The CTC was expanded last year to $3,600 per child under six and $3,000 per child under 18. In addition, GetCTC.org can be used to claim any missing portion of the third stimulus payment. (Julia Edinger)

GROUPS PUSH FOR APPROVAL FOR BIDEN FCC NOMINEE


More public interest and advocacy groups are urging President Biden to push for the conformation of his FCC commission nominee, Gigi Sohn.

This week, the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance sent a letter to the president, specifically stating that Senate blockades against Gigi Sohn must be cleared for the agency to function successfully while he is president. There are currently four active commissioners for the FCC, split evenly along party lines.

In its own statement about the letter, the NDIA described Sohn as "a longtime advocate for Internet freedom, consumer protection and digital inclusivity." Advocates in the field say Sohn's confirmation is vital to the FCC making progress in a number of areas related to digital equity, including the success of the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP).

The ACP was the subject of a major announcement this week by President Biden, one that involved the White House getting a commitment from 20 major Internet service providers to support the ACP by lowering prices or raising speeds. That announcement is contingent on telecommunications companies in the public sector honoring a digital equity commitment. (Zack Quaintance)

NEW RESOURCE EQUIPS SMALL BUSINESSES IN DELAWARE WITH DATA


Delaware’s Division of Small Business SizeUpDelaware, a free business analytics tool that offers business intelligence to help inform data-driven decision-making for small businesses. The tool works to put data in the hands of small- and medium-sized businesses to level the playing field for small businesses by making readily available market research that is sometimes only accessible to large corporations due to affordability of such insights.

“In today’s information economy, if you don’t have access to information, your business is at a significant disadvantage,” said Secretary of State Jeff Bullock in the announcement.

This tool aims to offer hyperlocal information to help businesses make better decisions for operations and growth. Businesses can use the tool to compare their performance to competition, discover potential customers and suppliers and even improve advertising through demographic analysis. (Julia Edinger)

NEW FCC BROADBAND MAPS EXPECTED IN NOVEMBER


In other FCC news, the commission's updated broadband maps — which are a key tool for distributing the billions of federal dollars that have been allocated to support Internet connectivity — are expected to arrive in November, according to U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo.

FCC Chair Rosenworcel has previously guaranteed that the maps would be ready by the fall. The revised maps are mandated as part of the Broadband DATA Act. Due to often-cited limitations with current FCC broadband maps, states and local areas have had to take these mapping efforts into their own hands, seeking to achieve greater accuracy than the federal equivalents. States like Georgia and Wisconsin are seen as leaders in the broadband mapping field. (Zack Quaintance)

CHECK OUT THIS NEW CALIFORNIA BROADBAND MAP


Technologists at the University of Southern California (USC) have built a new California broadband map that puts availability, speed and adoption data all in one place. Along with the map, developers have made data and scripts for the map available via a GitHub page for others who want to replicate the effort in their states. (Zack Quaintance)

NTIA INTRODUCES TRIBAL BROADBAND PLANNING TOOLKIT


Getting tribal communities connected to high-speed Internet is a growing focus of national digital equity efforts, and, as such, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has introduced a new tribal broadband planning toolkit.

The toolkit is the work of the NTIA's BroadbandUSA program, and it aims to simplify the broadband planning process for tribal communities. The kit outlines seven building blocks for such plans: assembling a team, determining priorities, exploring the data, building relationships for success, selecting the right solutions, preparing a budget and charting a path forward.

In addition, the kit also includes a ready-to-use tribal broadband plan template.

In other NTIA news this week, the organization released new data about the enduring barriers for closing the digital divide. (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