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What's New in Digital Equity: D.C. Works to Connect All Residents

Plus, new initiative seeks to bolster digital success among Latinos, several federal agencies enter into a new collaboration on broadband funding, an Oregon coalition is tackling broadband mapping, and more.

Washington, D.C., has announced a new program aimed at getting all residents of the city connected. The effort is called the Community Internet Program (CIP) and the crux of it is that it will give Internet service providers free access to the city's rooftops if they provide high-speed Internet at reduced or no costs to households eligible under the federal Affordable Connectivity Program.

The city has a website where residents can learn more about the CIP. This announcement builds on one made by President Biden last week, but it differs in that the Biden plan requests service providers to make a pledge while D.C. is instead offering them something they value — access to public infrastructure — in exchange for their help making high-speed Internet in the district more accessible.

WeLink Broadband is the CIP's first announced participant, and during the announcement, the company said it expects to start installing new neighborhood Internet hubs in three of the city's wards, the first of which within the next 30 days. By doing so, WeLink will bring no-cost high-speed Internet to households that qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program.

“Access to high-speed Internet is critical," said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a statement. "As we stay focused on building a more connected D.C., increasing access to affordable, high-quality Internet is a big part of that work. Whenever we can use district-owned buildings to better support the community, that is a win for everyone. We’re happy that President Biden is making this issue a priority, and we plan to make D.C. a national example of what is possible.”

The CIP joins ongoing digital inclusion work with the nation's capital, including several ongoing programs that involve collaborations between city departments such as the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, the Department of Human Services and the D.C. Housing Authority, among other participants. Through these programs, the city has launched the D.C. Hope Network, which provides free in-unit Internet to residents of five temporary housing and family homeless shelters. Another program involves free home Internet and digital literacy training within two D.C. Housing Authority locations.

The city has also created a new State Broadband and Digital Equity Office, housed within the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. The new office's first task is to ensure participating Internet service providers follow through on their commitment.

This new announcement may also spread outside of D.C. WeLink has announced its own effort called the Cities Challenge, which seeks to invest as much as $100 million in private capital to help deploy Internet at little or no cost within low-income communities in other cities. WeLink is inviting local government officials to learn more about that work on its website. (Zack Quaintance)

FEDERAL AGENCIES TO COLLABORATE ON BROADBAND FUNDING

Four federal agencies — the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) — have teamed up to share information, working together on the collection and reporting of broadband deployment data. The agreement is in effect as of May 11, 2022.

"Our new interagency agreement will allow us to collaborate more efficiently and deepen our current data sharing relationships," said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in the announcement.

These agencies will share data from programs administered by the FCC and the NTIA, the USDA's Rural Utilities Service and the Treasury's Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund and the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. This also includes information about the projects that have or will receive funding through these programs. (Julia Edinger)

OREGON COALITION UNDERTAKES SPEED TESTING AND BROADBAND MAPPING


A coalition of organizations in Oregon has launched a new effort called Faster Internet Oregon, which seeks to conduct speed testing in the interest of better broadband mapping in that state. The organizations involved include Oregon Economic Development Districts, Onward Eugene, SpeedUpAmerica and Link Oregon.

As noted on the effort's website, the state is preparing to receive part of the unprecedented federal investment in broadband infrastructure, and "better data will support more equitable funding allocating decisions to assist the communities that need it most." Essentially, Faster Internet Oregon is trying to pinpoint the places in the state most in need of high-speed Internet to try and ensure that the coming federal money helps fix the challenges.

The way it works is that residents of the state are invited to visit the Faster Internet Oregon website and use the speed test there. This will then lead to data for decision-makers that can help them identify where there are homes in the state that lack high-speed Internet. Some of the other goals include clarifying the reasons households don't have Internet, as well as providing cost estimates related to getting those residents connected. (Zack Quaintance)

LIBRARY ASSOCIATION OPENS APPLICATIONS FOR DIGITAL LITERACY WORKSHOP FUNDS


The Public Library Association (PLA) has open applications for libraries in search of funding for digital literacy workshops that use resources from DigitalLearn.org, the group has announced. This program, which is supported by AT&T, offers $7,000 to boost digital inclusion outreach and training at the local level.

The deadline for applications is set for June 10, and interested parties can learn more about the application process through the group's website. (Zack Quaintance)

BLOOMINGTON, IND., UNVEILS PLANS FOR FIBER-TO-THE-HOME NETWORK


Last week, the city of Bloomington, Ind., and Meridiam announced plans to bring a high-speed fiber network to the city. The $50 million investment from Meridiam, paired with the $1 million from the city, will help expand high-speed Internet access to city residents.

The infrastructure company will build a high-speed fiber network that reaches at least 85 percent of residences in the city. The network will initially launch with an exclusive Internet service provider for a period for engagement purposes, but ultimately, it will become an open access network that is open to other providers to use.

In addition, the city and Meridiam will work together on a digital equity program to help low-income households access quality Internet services. This initiative will provide qualified households with 250 Mbps Internet service for $30 per month, which will be put with the Affordable Connectivity Program's $30 per month to enable no-cost service for eligible residents. (Julia Edinger)

STATES, TERRITORIES SIGN ON TO INTERNET FOR ALL PROGRAM


A total of 34 states and territories have signed on to federal Internet for All Initiative, which is slated to invest $45 billion toward ensuring that all residents have access to affordable high-speed Internet, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has announced.

Launched last week, Internet for All is offering states funding opportunities from three programs: Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD); Enabling Middle-Mile Broadband Infrastructure; and the State Digital Equity Act. To participate, states and other eligible entities must submit a letter of intent and a planning funds budget, which will unlock as much as $5 million in planning funds to go toward a five-year action plan. Participating states are guaranteed a minimum $100 million allocation.

These are the states and territories that have sent a letter of intent or otherwise indicated they will participate: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, United States Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. (Zack Quaintance)

NEW TASK FORCE TO SUPPORT LATINO DIGITAL SUCCESS


A new task force announced this week aims to help public, private and nonprofit leaders to better support Latino workers and business owners in an increasingly digital workforce — and the nationwide increase in digital inclusion programs speaks to this shift.

The Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program, founded in 2015 by the Aspen Institute, launched the task force to address Latino digital success in the areas of digital transformation for Latino entrepreneurs, digital upskilling of Latino workers and digital innovation by Latino individuals.

The work will kick off with a round table discussion in June to explore the principles for digital success and offer actionable strategies that can be implemented by companies, workforce organizations and elected officials. The discussion will also touch on ways to ensure federal funding through the Digital Equity Act achieves maximum impact. (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.