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What’s New in Digital Equity: Seattle Announces 25th Year of Grants

Plus, New Mexico has a new leader for its state broadband team; Baltimore is restructuring its digital equity work; FCC leadership is proposing an increase for minimum broadband speeds; and more.

Image depicts the street view of a neighborhood in Seattle. A man stands in a driveway on the right side of the image.
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 city of Seattle is a pioneer in digital equity, having begun this work in 1996 with a commitment to get residents online. Now, as localities across the nation work to dive into the digital equity space, the city of Seattle continues to build on its long-running digital inclusion work with the announcement of 2022 digital equity grant winners.

In 1997, the city started the Technology Matching Fund grant program. Now in its 25th year, the program offers up to $25,000 for nonprofit organizations with digital equity projects.

To qualify for the grants, the projects must be completed within one year. In addition, applicants are required to match at least 25 percent of the amount of funding they requested. This match can be achieved through cash or time, or in other ways.

In addition, the city has created a Digital Navigator Cohort to increase the available funding opportunities. These grants offer up to $50,000 for projects that aim to increase Internet access, offering assistance through various communication methods.

The projects for these grants must be completed within 18 months. In a contrast to the Technology Matching Fund program, these grants do not require a match of funding.

In total, 19 nonprofits will receive a total of $590,000 in funding for these projects, which range from addressing digital adoption barriers for historically marginalized communities to providing computer skills training to justice-involved individuals.

Applications were reviewed by a group of people made up of Community Technology Advisory Board volunteers and city employees. The next grant cycle is expected to open at the beginning of next year. More information about the city’s digital equity work and the 2022 digital equity grant winners can be found on the Seattle Information Technology website. (Julia Edinger)


New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has appointed technology veteran Kelly Schlegel as the director of the state’s Office of Broadband Access and Expansion. Schlegel has over 40 years of experience in the fields of software engineering, aerospace and technology.

In the new role, which she began on Monday, Schlegel will oversee the office and Broadband Advisor Matt Schmit, who was appointed in November 2021. She will oversee the state’s execution of its three-year strategic broadband expansion plan.

“We are on the cusp of realizing the incredible opportunity we have to expand reliable broadband access to virtually every New Mexico community,” said Grisham in the announcement. “Kelly is the right person to build out the state’s plan on the ground.”

The office itself was created last year through Senate Bill 93 and is attached to the Department of Information Technology. (Julia Edinger)


Baltimore is restructuring its digital equity and broadband efforts, with city officials announcing this week that Broadband and Digital Equity Director Jason Hardebeck has left his position. In addition, the Broadband and Digital Equity Office is moving from the Mayor’s Office to be under the supervision of the Baltimore City Office of Information and Technology (BCIT).

Kenya Asli, director of strategic initiatives with BCIT, will fill Hardebeck’s role in an interim capacity as the city searches for a permanent replacement, reporting to Baltimore CIO Todd Carter. In the announcement for these moves, city officials also noted that with the digital equity and broadband office now under its supervision, BCIT will continue work with the city’s housing and parks departments that was aimed at bringing broadband to unserved or underserved areas of the city.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott praised Hardebeck, who spent 18 months with the city, quickly gaining a reputation in digital equity circles at the national level for his work.

“Jason stepped in during the pandemic and developed the Broadband and Digital Equity Framework, laying the groundwork for broadband infrastructure investment for the city of Baltimore,” Mayor Scott said in a statement. “He drove our decision to allocate $35 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds towards changing the digital landscape here in Baltimore. We are confident that our significant progress will continue through this transition. Kenya has played a key role in the city’s efforts to close the digital divide that has served as a barrier to economic mobility, wellbeing, and empowerment in our communities for far too long.”

No reason was given for Hardebeck’s departure. (Zack Quaintance)


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed raising the commission’s minimum speeds for broadband, according to an FCC press release.

Rosenworcel has circulated a notice of inquiry, which would serve as a first step to the agency’s annual evaluation of broadband nationwide. Within the notice was the proposal that the national standard for minimum broadband speeds be raised.

The proposal would see the national broadband standard move up to 100 megabits per second for downloads and 20 megabits per second for uploads, or as it is commonly abbreviated, 100/20 Mbps. The FCC last set its minimum speed at 25/3 Mbps, doing so in 2015 and not raising it since. The proposal notes this increase would get the FCC in line with the requirements of the new networks that are being funded by the federal government’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a historic investment in digital equity the likes of which the country has never seen.

Looking head, the proposal would also like to set a separate future goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps. (Zack Quaintance)


An announcement from West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice details the state’s preliminary approval of over $20 million in grant funding for six broadband infrastructure projects as part of the Major Broadband Project Strategies (MBPS) program.

This marks the first round of grants awarded through this program, which is part of the governor’s billion-dollar broadband strategy that was unveiled in October 2021. The grants announced this week will help deliver over 628 miles of fiber infrastructure to the state, helping to connect over 5,000 homes and businesses.

The investment from the state amounts to $20,845,157, and paired with over $13 million from other sources, the total investment in broadband for this round will come to over $34 million. The projects in this round were part of the MBPS program’s first application round, which closed in February 2022. (Julia Edinger)


In other broadband investment news, $23.4 million in funding has been awarded to 12 North Carolina counties as part of the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grants.

The grants announced this week will expand infrastructure for broadband in Alexander, Avery, Bertie, Chowan, Clay, Cleveland, Davidson, Gaston, Hyde, Lincoln, New Hanover and Stanly counties.

Gov. Roy Cooper told Government Technology in 2019 that the GREAT grant program is a significant achievement of the Broadband Infrastructure Office. Since then, it has continually delivered investments in connectivity for rural communities in the state. The program provides matching grants to Internet service providers and cooperatives that partner with counties to compete for funding. (Julia Edinger)


Maine has approved using $110 million of federal money it received through the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund for grants that will support broadband work in the state, officials have announced.

The money will go to Maine Infrastructure Ready, which is a competitive broadband grant program that is administered by the Maine Connectivity Authority. When the pandemic hit and brought a surge in federal funding for broadband work, Maine was in the enviable position of having full-time broadband staffers working for the state.

Stakeholders estimate that these new grants will have the potential to bring high-speed Internet to roughly 22,500 households in the state who do not currently have it, or do not have Internet that meets their needs. Some of these households are, of course, located in Maine’s farthest-flung remote counties. Maine has a unique topography — consisting of mountains, rural areas, islands, and coast — that has long made building the physical infrastructure needed for Internet a challenge.

Finally, officials also noted that an additional $18 million is expected to be allocated for broadband in Maine in the months to come. (Zack Quaintance)


All 50 states have now signed up for the Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative, which was announced by the White House in May, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has announced.

The Internet for All initiative is essentially a volunteer and nonbinding, structured promise, where government and private companies swear they will do their best to — as the name implies — bring Internet to all. The news this week is, essentially, that all U.S. states and territories have at least made that promise.

While this promise program may not have the teeth to it that some advocates would like, the federal government as of late has put actual money into getting all Americans connected to high-speed Internet, representing a major culture shift in government where broadband access has gone from being seen as a luxury to the cusp of being treated as a utility, although work still remains to go from promises to reality. (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.