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What's New in Digital Equity: New Guide for Historic Broadband Funding

Plus, Ohio announces a cohort of counties for its BroadbandOhio Community Accelerator program; the White House prepares to welcome the 2022 U.S. Digital Corps; seven new communities join U.S. Ignite; and more.

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A new guidebook aims to help local leaders as they shape their cases for the billions of dollars that are going from the federal government to states in order to support broadband and digital equity across the country.

The guidebook — dubbed Accelerate: A Community Broadband Planning Program — is the work of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, which is a nonprofit group that works to support media and telecommunications to enhance democracy. While the money is going down from legislation at the federal level directly to state government, a good amount of the funding will eventually go to the local level, with digital inclusion work in particular taking place in communities.

What the accelerate program specifically aims to do is help local leaders craft and share their visions for broadband solutions. In other words, this is a resource that helps local leaders explain and articulate why they need broadband funding, where it would go and other general broadband infrastructure questions.

"Good luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," said Bill Coleman, author of the guidebook. "Through Accelerate we are empowering local leaders with knowledge, information and a plan. These are the tools every community needs to extend broadband networks everywhere and connect everyone."

The Benton Institute also partnered with the Blandin Foundation on this project, which is an organization that serves rural Minnesota. Funding for it came from Heartland Forward's Connecting the Heartland initiative. (Zack Quaintance)


AGENCIES PREPARE TO WELCOME U.S. DIGITAL CORPS


Last year, the U.S. Digital Corps was created, a new program in the federal government housed within the U.S. General Services Administration to offer a two-year fellowship for technologists. Originally, the initial class was to include 30 fellows, but in response to the high number of applications, this plan has been adjusted to include over 40 fellows in this cohort.

The fellows will be welcomed by 13 federal agencies later this month. Some of the projects that they will be supporting during their fellowship include working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to modernize the digital tools and services veterans use, working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to create a behavioral health treatment locator tool and working with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to help develop risk assessments.

More information about the agencies and projects that will be supported by this fellowship can be found on the U.S. Digital Corps website. (Julia Edinger)

SEVEN COMMUNITIES JOIN U.S. IGNITE PROGRAM


In somewhat related news, seven more communities have joined the U.S. Ignite program, which has part of its mission as helping them identify federal funding opportunities to support — among other things — local broadband.

The new cities joining this program are Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Duluth, Minn.; Long Beach, Calif.; Miami; Philadelphia; and San Jose, Calif. In addition to the funding, these cities will also receive expert guidance on how to tackle connectivity and related challenges in underserved areas. The total number of participating communities in the U.S. Ignite program now number nearly 50.

"Through partnerships and peer learning, U.S. Ignite’s goal is to maximize the impact of newly available federal funds," officials wrote in a statement, "such as those from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program recently announced by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)."

The network was able to add these cities thanks to a $214,000 investment by the Knight Foundation. (Zack Quaintance)

NDIA OPENS 2022 DIGITAL INCLUSION TRAILBLAZERS APPLICATIONS


The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has opened the window of applications for its 2022 Digital Inclusion Trailblazers program, which recognizes local governments that are doing great things for their communities in digital equity.

First launched in 2016, the NDIA Trailblazers program is an advocacy tool for cities, towns and county-level governments. Six indicators are used to determine whether an organization qualifies as a digital inclusion trailblazer, and they are funding at least one full-time position dedicated to digital inclusion; having or developing a digital inclusion plan; participating in an open access digital inclusion coalition; surveying or publishing research related to Internet access for local residents; directly funding digital inclusion programs; and taking steps to increase home broadband affordability.

Agencies that qualify will be featured on the NDIA's Digital Inclusion Trailblazers page, which currently includes 17 jurisdictions from a variety of states with a variety of different sizes. (Zack Quaintance)

BROADBANDOHIO COMMUNITY ACCELERATOR COHORT TO SUPPORT COUNTIES


This week marks the launch of the Community Accelerator Cohort — a capacity-building program that aims to help local governments in Ohio as they expand broadband. As new federal and state funding is made available, the cohort will offer support for communities to maximize the impact of the deployment of these funds.

This first cohort will consist of four teams, with 50 representatives from 11 counties: Team Defiance County, Team Shelby County, Team Tuscarawas County and Team Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission. The teams will receive over 30 hours of free expert counseling to help as they identify broadband goals and understand how available funding options can help them be actualized.

The program itself is a collaborative effort between BroadbandOhio, Heartland Forward, the Benton Institute and the Ohio State University Office of Extension. (Julia Edinger)

NEW YORK ORGANIZATIONS PARTNER TO CREATE THE BRONX GIGABIT CENTER


The Bronx Gigabit Center was officially launched over the weekend by a group of organizations: The Knowledge House, Andrew Freedman Home and The Bronx Community Foundation in partnership with CityBridge and the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

The Bronx Gigabit Center will offer free public Wi-Fi access through the LinkNYC network, digital literacy training, free access to Internet-enabled devices and more. Digital literacy workshops will range from basic computer skills to coding lessons. The center aims to help bridge the digital divide for those in the community in a parallel effort to that of the Manhattan Gigabit Center that was launched in Harlem earlier this year.

One part of this programming for the Bronx community is The Digital Library Project, created by The Andrew Freedman Home. This project will help develop educational and workforce programs for digital production. (Julia Edinger)
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.