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What's New in Digital Equity: NTIA Adds Staff to Prep for Infrastructure Grants

Plus, a report details the digital divide in St. Louis, Mo.; a new initiative aims to invest $100 million to fix digital equity in Miami; and a survey finds that as many as 1 million Kansas residents lack Internet.

municipal-borrowing-infrastructure
Governments use municipal bonds to finance infrastructure projects.
(David Kidd)
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has appointed several key hires in the broadband space to help the agency prepare for the grant programs it will be launching as a result of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Herb Tyson has been named the director of intergovernmental affairs to build a team for engaging with state and local governments related to NTIA’s broadband programs. Evan Feinman has been named deputy associate administrator for Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD), and in this role, he will lead the $42.45 billion BEAD Program. Finally, Grace Abuhamad and Sarah Morris have both been named senior advisers in the Office of the Assistant Secretary.

While the full scope of how the unprecedented funding for broadband and digital equity will be distributed remain to be seen, many within government nationwide are preparing for the work it will create. Experts in the space note that while other state agencies — departments of transportation, for example — have robust offices and longtime mechanisms for requesting and distributing funding, the broadband offices in many states are new and generally understaffed.

So, while agencies at the federal level are adding staff to help distribute the money, it is likely that similar moves will be made by those in state and local governments who are tasked with making the case for where the money should go and how it should be distributed. (Julia Edinger)

REPORT DETAILS DIGITAL DIVIDE IN ST. LOUIS, MO.


Nearly half of the residents of St. Louis, Mo., and the surrounding county are impacted by one or more aspects of the digital divide, a new report has found.

The report — dubbed St. Louis Digital Divide: Summary of Study and Findings — was commissioned by the St. Louis Community Foundation and the Regional Business Council, and it was prepared by the Center for Civic Research and Innovation with the accounting firm Ernst & Young. More information about it is available at stldigitaldivide.org.

That website notes that it will require community investment to ensure connectivity for all of St. Louis long term, writing, "What was once considered primarily an issue of urban and rural divide has significant impact on urban and suburban families in our region."

This is, of course, an issue that was exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed much of everyday life entirely online, from going to school to getting heath care to looking for a job. While society has been rapidly digitizing in recent years, the pandemic made it clear that high-speed Internet access at home had become a utility, akin to electricity or running water.

The five components of the digital divide identified by the report are coverage, quality, service affordability, device affordability and digital literacy. While, as noted above, a majority of residents of St. Louis face one of these challenges, the report also found that residents of low-income areas often face three or more of these barriers. Those neighborhoods are disproportionately Black, having historically suffered from disinvestment.

Another finding of note in the report is that service affordability is a challenge for as many as 75 percent of St. Louis' residents.

The report also offered an estimate for the amount of investments needed to help bridge the digital divide, and those numbered at $200 million to $300 million for broadband infrastructure, $45 million to $50 million for annual subsidies, and $20 million to $30 million for devices. While those figures may seem steep, the report goes on to note that Missouri will receive an estimated $681 million in federal support to connect underserved communities, as well as much as $51 million for digital literacy training from the federal infrastructure investment. (Zack Quaintance)

INITIATIVE TO INVEST $100M TOWARD DIGITAL EQUITY IN MIAMI


A new initiative called Tech Equity Miami will deploy $100 million in philanthropic funding over a five-year period to digital equity advances in its namesake city. The initiative was launched through a collaboration between JPMorgan Chase, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Miami Foundation and aire ventures, and it has received support from Miami-Dade County.

This program has a stated focus on removing barriers for entry into the tech industry for members of traditionally underserved groups. This comes as Miami continues a civic push to become a large-scale tech hub. The program's website notes that "tech has the potential to become one of the greatest accelerants of socioeconomic mobility."

The initiative will measure community impact with a public database to track progress toward intended outcomes. The main areas of focus are to increase digital access for underserved communities, tech learning experiences for students, pathways into tech-based careers and powering digital transformation for small businesses. The initiative is actively recruiting additional partners. (Julia Edinger)

THE MAINE CONNECTIVITY AUTHORITY IS NOW HIRING


The Maine Connectivity Authority — which works on broadband and digital equity in that state — is now hiring.

The job postings are all available on the group's website, and they include listings for a communications director, an operations manager, and data and analysis impact specialist. First established in 2021, the Maine Connectivity Authority is a quasi-governmental entity that is led by a board appointed by the state's governor. It's mission is to achieve universal access to affordable high-speed broadband for all residents of Maine. (Zack Quaintance)

1 MILLION KANSAS RESIDENTS MAY LACK ACCEPTABLE BROADBAND


More than 1 million Kansas residents may lack adequate broadband, according to a pair of new surveys conducted by the University of Kansas Institute for Policy and Social Research.

The survey period ran from January 2021 to January 2022 and looked at how many residents lived within ZIP codes where recorded average download speeds were below what is considered acceptable for online education, streaming video and living in a household with multiple users. Researchers summarized the findings with an announcement on the University of Kansas' website, which also included the surveys exact results and methodology.

"The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that access to broadband is essential for work and education. Our surveys indicate that far too many Kansans do not have access to high-speed Internet services. Kansas is in the process of making significant investments in broadband infrastructure that will support future economic growth and development in the state," said Donna Ginther, principal investigator on the project, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Economics and director of IPSR, in a statement. (Zack Quaintance)

FIRST COHORT UNVEILED FOR NEW YORK DIGITAL INCLUSION FUND


The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has announced its first grantee cohort for the New York Digital Inclusion Fund. The announcement details 10 grant recipients for the Digital Inclusion Coalition Planning Cohort, as well as five grantees for the related but separate Digital Inclusion Innovation Cohort. NDIA will provide all grantees with training and technical support.

“Combining coalition and digital inclusion funding, organizations will be able to build partnerships to accelerate digital equity across New York and create models that serve as a resource for programs across the country,” Angela Siefer, executive director of NDIA, said in a statement.

The New York Digital Inclusion Fund supports research, design and formation of digital inclusion coalitions and partnership models that address digital equity across the state. It is managed by NDIA and supported with funding by Schmidt Futures.

More information can be found on the fund’s website. (Julia Edinger)

NEW YORK LAUNCHES WEBSITE TO SUPPORT UKRAINE


New York has launched a website to help support Ukranian people and their allies in the state by directing them to useful resources and information. This follows Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent announcement warning New Yorkers about cybersecurity risks related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The website includes resources and information on support services, immigration assistance, emotional support, humanitarian aid and a social media toolkit for individuals to show support.

In the section on humanitarian aid, there is information related to donation scams — something that Hochul’s prior announcement on cybersecurity also mentioned. It underlines the need to verify the request, research the charity, resist high-pressure tactics, keep personal information private, ask how money will be spent, and donate by check or credit card. It advises against giving money through any tender that is not easily traceable, such as cryptocurrency or cash.

In the section on support services, the web page displays information about the Office for New Americans. In addition to assisting new Americans with navigating free services available to them throughout the state, the office also offers workforce readiness tools such as digital literacy skills training, as highlighted on the new website. (Julia Edinger)

SURVEY ASSESSES INTERNET ACCESS IN RURAL INDIANA


A new survey has assessed the quality and affordability of home Internet access across Indiana, specifically in mostly rural areas.

Dubbed Home Broadband Survey Results: Connecting Indiana, this work was done by the Purdue Center for Regional Development (PCRD), in partnership with Purdue Extension, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and multiple local or regional groups. All told, the survey included responses from 16,200 homes. Among the key findings are that about 88 percent of respondents subscribed to Internet access at home, but about half of those households said they were dissatisfied with their service, either based on speed or affordability.

"Access has been a priority for many years but now quality and affordable service, even in areas that already have access, is equally important to address," said PCRD Director Roberto Gallardo in a statement. "Fortunately, there will be a significant amount of federal funds to invest to address this issue." (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