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What's New in Digital Equity: Inside Net Inclusion 2024

Plus, the state of Washington has appointed Aaron Wheeler to serve as the new broadband director, a digital navigator pilot program has been launched in the city of Cambridge, Mass., 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:


The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) held its annual Net Inclusion event this week in Philadelphia, with officials announcing a new Tribal Digital Inclusion Trailblazers digital equity benchmarking program, as well as the location of next year's event, which is the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.

As the name implies, the new Tribal Digital Inclusion Trailblazers program is a version of the NDIA's Digital Trailblazers program that provides benchmarks — and subsequent award status — to local and regional government entities that invest time, money and staff in digital inclusion work. Now, the group's new program will do the same for tribal communities.

For the new program, the NDIA is partnering with Amerind Critical Infrastructure, a tribally owned company that is working to modernize infrastructure in tribal communities. This is a key moment for such an effort, as a historic amount of funding continues to make its way down from the federal government to other levels of government with the aim of modernizing all of the country's digital infrastructure. Federal officials and digital inclusion advocates alike stress the importance of narrowing the digital divide in tribal communities.

Plans call for the program to officially get underway later this year.

Check back to GovTech Friday for more coverage from Net Inclusion 2024. (Zack Quaintance)


In state news, Aaron Wheeler has been tapped to serve as director of the Washington State Broadband Office. Wheeler brings 18 years of experience as an IT professional with the Suquamish Tribe government.

Some of his professional experiences include leading a team in the deployment of 135 free public wireless access locations and working with state legislative leaders to pass public retail broadband legislation. He also co-authored a National Telecommunications and Information Administration grant application on behalf of the Suquamish Tribe.

Wheeler’s first day in the role will be March 1, at which point he’ll begin leading the state broadband office in its work with other state agencies and private partners to develop and implement a five-year digital equity plan. (Julia Edinger)


At the local government level in Washington state, the city of Seattle has released a new study, the Technology Access and Adoption Study. It is intended to gather data on Internet and device access and use, digital skills and training needs, civic participation and security issues. The study's findings will help guide the city’s work in improving digital equity.

To create this study, over 4,600 Seattle residents provided input. The study is conducted every five years. This year, however, the study reports for the first time on telehealth use, devices per household, adequate screen size, prolonged Internet interruptions, and awareness of the Affordable Connectivity Program. The city also partnered with Native American groups to provide its first urban Native American digital equity snapshot.

The study found that, overall, Internet access has increased in the past five years; however, disparities still exist. (Julia Edinger)


In other local news, the city of Cambridge, Mass., has launched a Digital Navigator Pilot Program, a model for digital inclusion training that has become popular nationwide.

In Cambridge, the program is a collaborative effort between the city’s Information Technology Department, Cambridge Public Library, Cambridge Public Schools district, Just-A-Start and Cambridge Community Television.

Funded by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and the American Rescue Plan Act in partnership with the MassHire Metro North Workforce Investment Board, the program aims to support residents’ use of technology. The city’s research suggests that as many as 40 percent of low-income residents do not know how to use the Internet for essential functions, and this program aims to bridge that divide. (Julia Edinger)


The city of Detroit is also working to increase access to digital literacy resources with the announcement of eight Certified Tech Hubs for the community.

These hubs will help offer residents a central location within their neighborhood to access digital resources and tools. To become a Certified Tech Hub, locations must have free Wi-Fi, device access, digital literacy training software and a secure environment.

According to the city’s Digital Equity and Inclusion Director Christine Burkette, the effort to increase community access to digital inclusion resources has been a vital piece of the city’s digital equity work approach.

“Our goal is to register a minimum of 30 Certified Tech Hubs citywide to service the 220,000 residents currently at or below poverty here in the city of Detroit,” said Burkette in the announcement. (Julia Edinger)


At the federal level, the government is continuing to invest in expanding broadband access. Earlier this week, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration awarded the final award — $42 million — from the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund’s first funding opportunity.

This will fund a project by a consortium of carriers, universities and equipment suppliers to establish a research and development center to focus on testing network performance, interoperability and security in the Dallas Technology Corridor. It will also fund the establishment of a satellite facility in the Washington, D.C., area.

Additional awards from this fund will be announced after the next notice of funding opportunity is issued. (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.