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NDIA Awards 18 Digital Equity Grants to Rural, Tribal Areas

The grants will go toward launching the National Digital Navigator Corps, a training model aimed at helping members of recipient communities get access to Internet connectivity, devices and digital skills training.

Digital_Equity2
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has awarded 18 grants to organizations in rural and tribal communities to support the hiring of digital navigators there, NDIA officials have announced.

The grants total $6.6 million, and they are intended to span two-and-a-half-year periods. Of the recipients, seven are tribal-led organizations while three others will serve tribal communities. NDIA is partnering closely on this work with AMERIND Critical Infrastructure, a group that assists tribal communities with planning, building and financing community broadband networks. When taken all together, these grants will go toward launching what officials have dubbed the National Digital Navigator Corps.

The digital navigator concept is long-tenured in digital equity circles, essentially referring to a trusted guide who can help community members do a number of things related to digital equity, including using computing devices, finding affordable rates for Internet and even more granular things like setting up email accounts. It's basically a train-the-trainer program, and it has become a best practice for tackling the digital divide across the country.

These grants are specifically part of $10 million for digital equity and tribal communities from Google.org, which the NDIA originally announced in February. What's new here is that the group has now picked the individual organizations that will be receiving the money.

They are as follows:

  • Alaska Federation of Natives
  • Cayuse Native Solutions
  • Cherokee Nation
  • Community Broadband Action Network Corp.
  • Community Service Programs of West Alabama, Inc.
  • Computer Reach
  • Easter Seals of Greater Houston Inc.
  • Forest County Broadband Committee
  • Gila River Broadcasting Corporation: Digital Connect Initiative
  • Hocking Athens Perry Community Action
  • Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District
  • Lummi Indian Business Council
  • National Digital Equity Center
  • Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission
  • Pottsboro Area Public Library
  • Pueblo of Jemez
  • Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc.
  • Washington State University Extension Grays Harbor County

“The National Digital Navigator Corps will embed digital inclusion advocates across Indian Country,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, chief strategy officer and general counsel of AMERIND, in a statement accompanying the announcement. “This important strategy will address the breadth of inclusion needs where they occur — at home in Native communities — and will help our tribal nations take their rightful place in the world through the Internet.”

As government has become more involved in digital equity work this year, a focus has emerged on helping tribal communities, where the digital divide tends to often be stark. This focus has manifested in other ways as well, including a federal government watchdog calling for a unified White House strategy to help tribal communities get connected. As it applies to the infrastructure, some states have also allocated federal funds toward broadband for those communities.

Whereas that work is oriented toward making sure those areas have the physical infrastructure, the grants supporting the Digital Navigator Corps are more comprehensive, taking on those other challenges, including access to devices and digital skills training. In addition to tribal communities, these 18 grantees also include rural areas as well, including communities in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Kentucky.

“For distressed rural communities, the Internet levels the playing field … but only if they know how to leverage it," said Colby Hall, executive director of the Kentucky-based Shaping Our Appalachian Region in a statement. "We are excited to work closely with NDIA to increase active Internet subscriptions, computing devices and digital skills in six eastern Kentucky counties.”