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What's New in Civic Tech: Digital Inclusion Week Begins

Plus, the Federal Communications Commission commits $1 billion to emergency connectivity program aimed at students, Philadelphia plans to continue its PHLDonateTech program for another year, and more.

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Regular readers of this space may recall that the start of Digital Inclusion Week approaches, with the official time frame slated for Monday, Oct. 4, through Friday, Oct. 8.

Organizers are projecting this to be the biggest Digital Inclusion Week ever, with the event dating back to 2017, the first year that it was expanded past a single day. The primary function of this week is, of course, to promote and support digital inclusion efforts, which work to ensure that all members of society can participate in meaningful ways in our increasingly digitized world. The nature of the week is actually fragmented, with it consisting of a number of local events spread throughout the country. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) acts as an organizing and convening body, keeping a running index of related events on its website.

As has become relatively standard this fall, the week will be made up of a mixture of in-person and virtual events, and it will include a range of groups, from seasoned advocates in the space to programs that are newly launched. There is perhaps an all-time high number of new programs that have launched in recent months, with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to unprecedented support and attention for digital equity. When the virus pushed people into their homes, many largely underserved communities lacked sufficient Internet access at home, or the skills to use the Internet in efficient and purposeful ways.

This year the week specifically aims to raise awareness for the various solutions related to home Internet access gaps, programs aimed at dispensing personal devices, and local tech training programs.

So far, more than 67 events nationwide have been registered with the NDIA, and their locations range from St. Louis, Mo.; to Washington, D.C.; to Portland, Ore. (Zack Quaintance)

FCC COMMITS $1.2 BILLION FROM EMERGENCY CONNECTIVITY FUND TO COMBAT HOMEWORK GAP


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a commitment of $1.2 billion in funding toward schools, libraries and other related groups that applied through the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. This funding, which will go to 3,040 schools, 260 libraries and 24 consortia, is expected to help connect over 3.6 million students.

This is the first wave of funding commitments from this program, and it will provide electronic devices and broadband access to students, school staff and library patrons. The intent is to fund the purchase of laptops, tablets, modems, routers, Wi-Fi hot spots and broadband to help close the “homework gap.”

There will be a second window opening Sept. 28 and closing Oct. 13 to apply for support through the program. (Julia Edinger) 

PHILADELPHIA TO CONTINUE PHLDONATETECH ANOTHER YEAR


Philadelphia will continue its PHLDonateTech initiative — in which the city provides donated or refurbished devices to residents who need them — for another year, owing in part to a new grant from banking giant, Santander.

Device dispersal and refurbishment is a foundational element of digital equity work, often the first step in a process that involves next providing an Internet connection and finally training on how to use it. PHLDonateTech first launched in late 2020 with support from the telecommunications AT&T. Its creation was sparked by the pandemic exacerbating the need for devices to access online services.

Santander's new support grant totals $35,000, and the city reports that the money will go toward collecting 500 more devices to be refurbished or immediately donated to residents who need them. The Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology will also team with the digital equity group Digitunity to find the donors.

More information about this program can be found on Philadelphia's website. (Zack Quaintance)

BLOOMBERG HARVARD CITY LEADERSHIP PROGRAM PICKS FIFTH CLASS OF MAYORS


The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative — one of the premier innovation training programs for local government executives in the world — is returning for a fifth class, and leadership has now selected the mayors who will join it.

A total of 28 mayors from North America, Latin America, Europe and Africa were picked for the initiative, which spans an entire year. The focus of the work is equipping the mayors with the tools they need to lead and manage in increasingly challenging circumstances. Of this group, 24 are U.S. mayors, and like so many other programs this year, this one will deploy a hybrid model that mixes in-person and virtual training.

This also marks the most diverse class for this program to date. Nearly half of the participating mayors are women, and half identify as Black or Hispanic. Also, about 40 percent of these mayors are still in their first year in office. The alumni network for the program now totals 158 mayors from across the globe.

More information can be found on the Bloomberg Harvard Leadership Initiative website. (Zack Quaintance)
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.