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What's New in Digital Equity: Philly to Use City Assets for Digital Equity

Plus, federal lawmakers introduce multiple pieces of legislation related to boosting the nation's broadband infrastructure, Texas moves forward with its own broadband availability map, and more.

This week in “What’s New in Digital Equity” — our weekly look at government digital equity and broadband news — we have a number of interesting items, which you can jump to with the links below:


Philadelphia has posted a new request for ideas (RFI) dubbed Using City Assets to Advance Digital Equity.

Posted by the Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology, the RFI is looking for ways that the city can make its public assets support digital equity, doing so through public-private partnerships that generate either services or revenue. Responses to this RFI are due at the end of September, and afterward, the city is planning to use them as a basis for discussion with the potential to result in either a request for proposal (RFP) or even a master services agreement (MSA).

This RFI comes months after Philadelphia unveiled its Digital Equity Plan, joining an increasing number of cities across the country that are prioritizing and working toward closing the digital divide for their residents, doing so by focusing on the three pillars of digital equity: access to the Internet, having a device to use the Internet and possessing the digital skills to use them both in effective ways. Last year, a report by the city found that roughly 16 percent of households in Philadelphia lack an Internet connection, with that number rising significantly in lower-income neighborhoods, which are traditionally on the other side of the digital divide.

To sum up the RFI, the city is essentially offering access to city resources — things like electric utility systems, streetlights, buses, parking infrastructure and vehicle fleets, among others — in exchange for creative ideas involving public-private partnerships for reducing those numbers and bolstering digital equity in Philadelphia. While the list was not intended to be exhaustive, the RFI did include some examples, such as digital advertising campaigns, low-cost Wi-Fi networks for areas where many residents lack home Internet and more.

Digital equity first rose as a priority across government in the U.S. after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then it has garnered a historic amount of funding at the federal level, which is currently making its way down to states, cities and community-level organizations on the front lines of digital equity.

This new RFI can be read in full via Philadelphia's website. (Zack Quaintance)


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched a new grants program intended to bolster outreach for its Affordable Connectivity Program, the commission has announced.

The FCC notes in its announcement that while the Affordable Connectivity Program has so far helped roughly 13 million U.S. households afford a high-speed Internet connection, there are still millions of eligible residents who have not taken advantage of the program. The FCC also noted that trusted organizations at the local level have been a tremendous asset in spreading the word — and in some instances helping people physically sign up — for the program. With all that in mind, the new grant program seeks to provide grants to those organizations so they can continue and/or expand their outreach work.

This program will total $100 million, with the money coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, in which Congress included a provision around funding connectivity outreach efforts. That, of course, is part of the historic amounts of money that went to boost both broadband and digital equity in that bill.

While additional details about specific grant requirements are coming at a later date, the FCC has noted that these grants will be open to both governmental and nongovernmental partners.

Meanwhile, in other FCC and Affordable Connectivity Program news this week, the commission also created a pilot program called Your Home, Your Internet, which also aims to spread awareness. This program is essentially a one-year test in which the Department of Housing and Urban Development will assess ways to get word about the program to residents who receive federal housing assistance.

Finally, all this outreach work is in addition to the commission announcing $68 million in new funding for schools and libraries is available through its Emergency Connectivity Program. (Zack Quaintance)


Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress have also introduced new pieces of legislation related to broadband, and they have also put a broadband expansion idea into a letter sent to the Department of Transportation.

To start, there is now a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate that seeks to require the White House to create a national plan for closing the digital divide, which was recommended by a federal watchdog agency, as you know doubt read recently in this space. Dubbed the Proper Leadership to Align Networks (PLAN) for Broadband Act, this bill was introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M. Essentially, the watchdog report noted that while support for broadband and digital equity work is building at the federal level, it would greatly benefit from presidential leadership. The PLAN for Broadband Act is based on that report, and it would basically make its recommendations a requirement.

Another bipartisan bill introduced this week in the Senate is the Grant to Rapidly Invest and Deploy (GRIP) Broadband Act, which would create a federal cost share to help build fiber along existing electrical grid infrastructure in the U.S. It was introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Finally, this week members of the U.S House of Representatives also sent a letter to the Department of Transportation, urging leadership there to coordinate building out electric vehicle infrastructure with building out broadband infrastructure, both of which are to receive major funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Ten members of Congress signed the letter, which is available to read in full online. (Zack Quaintance)


The Texas Comptroller’s Broadband Development Office (BDO) has chosen LightBox as the company to develop the state’s broadband availability map.

This effort aims to create a better understanding of which areas of the state are in greatest need of public broadband funding. The information will help guide the state’s decision-making for implementation of the Texas Broadband Plan that was released in June 2022. The map is expected to be complete by January 2023.

The state will be using the company’s SmartFabric product. The company will start by collecting data from Internet service providers in the state. The map will feature all types of addresses, from homes to schools to tribal areas.

More information about the BDO’s work can be found online. (Julia Edinger)


Six million dollars in grant funding has received preliminary approval for two major broadband infrastructure projects through the Line Extension Advancement and Development (LEAD) program. The two projects span Kanawha, Jackson and Lincoln counties of West Virginia.

This announcement marks the third round of grants that have been awarded through the program, which is part of Gov. Jim Justice’s billion-dollar broadband strategy. The first round of grants was announced in July 2021.

The state’s investment of $6 million will be paired with over $8 million from other funding sources, making the total investment over $14 million for this round. The projects announced today were received during the LEAD program’s third application round, which closed in January 2022. (Julia Edinger)


The federal government continues to increase its support for broadband Internet access among tribal communities in the U.S., with this week seeing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) add $1 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act to its ongoing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

In the announcement of the addition, officials noted that the NTIA has already received more than 300 applications in this area, totaling more than $5 billion in funding requests. The additional money will help more of those requests be met.

Also this week, the NTIA along with the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs announced an agreement to streamline environmental permitting related to high-speed Internet for tribal communities. (Zack Quaintance)


Cori Zarek has accepted a role as the deputy administrator of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS). In Zarek’s blog post on the subject, she stated that she would be leaving her position of executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, where she has been working for more than three years. She was named executive director in January 2021, taking the role after the departure of Sonal Shah.

“As we chart the course of this growing field together, I look forward to returning to public service to focus on the people and processes to make meaningful improvements in how the U.S. government delivers services,” she said in her announcement.

Her Aug. 10 blog post stated that her return to public service would occur later this month. Current Beeck Center fellow Aaron Snow will take over her responsibilities as interim executive director. (Julia Edinger)


A digital equity initiative led by the Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA) — a coalition of stakeholders from the city, academia, corporations, individuals and other organizations — will receive $1 million from AT&T. The telecom's support is part of its $2 billion, three-year commitment to help bridge the digital divide nationwide.

With this investment, DIA will target 10,000 members of the community with its new Digital Ambassador program titled “Connected Dallas.” The program is a two-year digital inclusion campaign in the city.

“Through this [Digital Ambassador] program, we can help support our city’s families by giving them access to the educational opportunities, training and other support they need to succeed in the 21st-century economy,” Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson stated in the announcement.

Since being formed in 2015, the DIA has done other work to leverage technology for residents in the city, including smart city projects and the Mobile Learning Lab. (Julia Edinger)
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology</i>. 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.