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What’s New in Digital Equity: NDIA’s Digital Navigator Model Turns 3

Plus, the Biden administration works to make it easier for people with disabilities to access public services online; the FCC rolls out more Emergency Connectivity funding for schools; 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:


Three years after its summer 2020 launch, the Digital Navigator model introduced by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has had a major impact on digital equity work by training community leaders to help community members gain digital skills.

In its early days, the Digital Navigators program was a solution introduced in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic to increase digital literacy, aiming to fill the gaps highlighted during recommendations to adopt social distancing practices. In June 2020, a baseline job description for staffers to do digital navigator work was developed, with the intention of being flexible so that it could be adapted based on the capacity of staffers an organization had available.

Since the program’s launch, digital inclusion and digital literacy training programs have become a collective initiative nationwide — and the Digital Navigator model is a common method. By training community leaders like librarians to better guide the public, there is a lasting and trusted source of digital literacy knowledge in the community. These navigators could help people learn to use the Internet, access federal subsidies like the Affordable Connectivity Program, and more.

For rural and tribal communities, the Digital Navigators program offers insight into community needs, as it can produce data insights to inform future investments based on need. And as NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer previously told Government Technology, some new insights have already been gained.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic brought digital equity to the forefront of national discussion, the peak in interest and investment in the effort is not going to last forever. However, through efforts like the Digital Navigators program, communities gain the lasting benefit of a digital inclusion ecosystem that will remain when the funding opportunities that are available now are no longer available.

“Since [the program’s start], we’ve seen an explosion in the adoption and adaptation of the digital navigator model,” NDIA wrote in a blog post celebrating the program milestone. “As with any community-created, open-source project, the digital navigator model has taken on a life of its own, expanded, and evolved further than we anticipated.”

The program continues to gain interest, as private-sector businesses like Comcast continue investing in organizations that train digital navigators. Programs are still launching across the nation; for example, Tallahassee, Fla., announced its Digital Navigators program earlier this year. (Julia Edinger)


This week, the federal government has published a notice of proposed rulemaking under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to improve the accessibility of web and mobile applications for people with disabilities. It suggests technical standards, including text descriptions for images, captions on videos, and keyboard-enabled navigation options.

“This marks the first time in the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act that the Justice Department has issued a proposed rule on website accessibility,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in the announcement.

The proposal also clarifies how public entities at the state and local level can meet current requirements of ADA as digital services gain ground. Massachusetts officials cited this guidance this week when announcing a new position and governance board that will focus on digital accessibility. (Julia Edinger)


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has committed $55 million in new funding to go out through the Emergency Connectivity Fund program, which aims to give digital tools and services to students, officials announced.

This new funding will go toward helping 115,000 students across the country in a range of states, including Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah. The money will go toward roughly 130 schools, 12 libraries and four consortia. It can be used to support off-campus things like nightly homework, as well as summer programs online. This announcement comes as the fall school year approaches.

While the history of the Emergency Connectivity Fund is a brief one — dating back to 2021 — the initiative is now on its third application window. To date, about $6.8 billion of funding commitments have been approved through this effort.

More information about the Emergency Connectivity Program can be found on the FCC’s website. (Zack Quaintance)


The White House has announced the availability of almost $1 billion in funding to support high-speed Internet access on tribal lands, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has announced.

This funding is happening through the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It’s the second round of funding for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP), and it totals about $980 million for the deployment of Internet infrastructure on tribal lands, telehealth, distance learning and affordability initiatives. With this new money, that now totals $1.78 billion that has been awarded through the TBCP since the program launched in 2021, doled out to 191 tribal entities.

More information about this new allotment can be found via the NTIA’s website. (Zack Quaintance)


Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an order that will provide tribal libraries and other E-rate participants greater access to funding. The goal is to support these organizations in their ability to connect students and library patrons to affordable broadband services and online learning.

“Remember, these are facilities in some of the most remote areas, where broadband is scarce and community access at the library is essential,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “So, we are cleaning up our rules and streamlining our process so that more tribal libraries can seek support through E-rate.”

With the order adopted last week, as well as a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the E-rate program rule updates aim to expand program access. For example, E-rate eligibility will now be granted to tribal college and university libraries that serve their communities as public libraries. (Julia Edinger)


North Carolina’s Division of Broadband and Digital Equity has posted a request for proposals (RFP) looking for vendors that can give the department strategic advice for programs that will improve access to high-speed Internet in the state.

That RFP is looking for strategic advice related to digital equity; broadband equity, access and deployment; stop-gap solutions; broadband pole replacement; and more. A full list of the programs for which the state is seeking advice can be found on its website, along with more details about each. The state is specifically looking for help with how to design programs, evaluate programs and do strategic planning around those programs.

The scope of the RFP is not just limited to the listed programs, though. It also asks the vendors to find and provide help with related areas in which they might have prior experience.

And a lot of this is about making sure the state is making the most effective decisions with the historic amount of money coming down from the federal government for this work.

“Thanks to funding from the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for high-speed Internet infrastructure and digital equity, North Carolina is well positioned to permanently close the digital divide,” said NCDIT Deputy Secretary for Broadband and Digital Equity Nate Denny in a statement. “These strategic advisory services will enhance the work our team is already doing to leverage these funds to their maximum benefit and demonstrate strong stewardship of taxpayer resources.”

The deadline for the RFP is set for Aug. 8. More information can be found here. (Zack Quaintance)
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.
Associate editor for <i>Government Technology</i> magazine.