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What’s New in Digital Equity: Nashville Hires Digital Inclusion Officer

Plus, Chicago has posted a new RFI related to expanding broadband access throughout the entire city, Pittsburgh has announced a new digital equity coalition, North Carolina has a digital equity grant program and more.

Lower Broadway in Nashville, Tenn., at night illuminated by neon lights.
Neon-lit lower Broadway in Nashville, Tenn., is famous for its many honky-tonks.
Shutterstock/Spirit of America
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:


Nashville has hired its first ever digital inclusion officer, the city announced.

Pearl Amanfu will take the role, driving Nashville’s work in digital equity. The city’s announcement described the position as involving “a community-centered model that leverages Nashville’s growing digital inclusion network to connect opportunities with needs.” That sort of work — convening, directing and connecting frontline community groups with a broader vision for digital equity — is essentially a best practice of the digital inclusion work being done in many U.S. municipal governments.

As in Nashville, that work has increasingly become a priority in city halls nationwide. While as recently as 2019 it was somewhat rare for local government to have even one full-time staffer dedicated to digital inclusion, it has become more common today. Perhaps one of the best indicators of the progress being made can be found with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Digital Inclusion Trailblazers distinction.

The group recently announced that it had qualified 32 local or regional governments as “Trailblazers” for 2022, the largest number to qualify yet — and double the number from last year. While Nashville was not on the list for 2022, having a full-time digital inclusion staffer is one of the areas in which cities are judged. In 2022, 24 of the 32 governments that were trailblazers had digital inclusion staff. (Zack Quaintance)


Chicago has posted a new Request for Information (RFI) that seeks ideas for how the city can work with the private sector, philanthropies and nonprofits to deliver every one of its households options for affordable, high-quality broadband.

The deadline for the RFI is Nov. 7, and the city has a form for those interested in learning more about it on its website. The RFI specifically asks for ways its public real estate assets and recovery plan assets can be leveraged to help connect residents. In addition to a historic amount of broadband money coming from the federal government, the city has also created the Chicago Recovery Plan that allocates $28 million for neighborhood broadband initiatives.

Chicago is asking that all responses to its RFI prioritize equitable access, high-quality performance, affordability, privacy and choice of multiple service providers. The city is also asking for responses to focus on those Chicagoans most burdened by the digital divide, including low-income households, residents of public housing, immigrant communities and others.

Chicago has done some high-profile work on digital inclusion since the outbreak of the pandemic, including launching a digital equity council earlier this year. (Zack Quaintance)


North Carolina launched a new digital equity grant program this week to help people in the state afford Internet connectivity, devices, and to boost digital literacy and resources. The program will be administered by the state’s Office of Digital Equity and Literacy and will use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

In the first phase of the program, the state will invest $10 million to support government entities as they develop or build upon existing digital inclusion programs. The grantees will receive up to $2 million for projects to be completed by the end of 2024. The second phase of the program, in which funding opportunities will be opened up to municipalities and nonprofit or community-based organizations, will launch in winter 2023.

For this phase, state government entities can submit applications through Oct. 28. Three informational sessions will be held during the month of October. More information can be found on the program website. (Julia Edinger)


According to a recent announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $502 million in loans and grants to rural residents and businesses in 20 states for expanding Internet access. The funding announced today includes 32 awards to support rural communities on tribal lands and socially vulnerable communities.

This marks the third round of funding of the ReConnect Program. In total, USDA has announced $858 million already in this round of funding, and expects to announce more investments in the coming weeks.

The funds for the program come from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. More information can be found on USDA’s website. (Julia Edinger)


Officials from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, Pa., have announced a new regional digital equity coalition.

The Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition (PDEC) — which officials described as “a working group of anchor organizations already working to promote digital equity and and smaller community groups with intimate knowledge of the community need” — is planning to produce and implement a five-year digital equity plan throughout the area by 2027.

While Pittsburgh and the surrounding region have long had groups working on digital inclusion, this marks the most concentrated effort to date by local government organizations there to close the digital divide. In the coalition’s announcement, organizers pointed directly at the pandemic as the reason they are acting now.

“The increasing importance of online activities for residents during the pandemic now requires proactive leadership to close the digital divide across our region,” organizers wrote.

The PDEC expects to publish its new five-year plan in the second quarter of 2023. (Zack Quaintance)


Among the grants awarded through the ReConnect Program as announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about $64 million will support Internet network build and deployment projects for communities in Alaska. The grants were awarded to the Alaska Telephone Company and Arctic Slope Telephone, amounting to $33 million and $30.9 million, respectively.

The first grant will support deployment of a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect more than 200 people and five businesses to high-speed Internet. Alaska Telephone Company will implement the FCC’s Lifeline program to support affordability.

The second will also support a fiber-to-the-premises network; this one will connect more than 450 people and 15 businesses, as well as a public school, to high-speed Internet. Arctic Slope Telephone will also implement the FCC’s Lifeline program, in addition to its Affordable Connectivity Program. (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.