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What’s New in Digital Equity: USDR’s New Broadband/Digital Equity Focus

Plus, a new study looks into characteristics of the digital divide in counties, planning for Digital Inclusion Week 2022 is now underway, the White House awards $119M in grants to tribal communities, and more.

Silhouettes of people walking.
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 United States Digital Response (USDR) — which is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that helps governments, nonprofits and other public entities address critical needs — has announced that broadband/digital equity is one of its new areas of focus.

It is perhaps fitting that broadband/digital equity has joined the USDR’s focus areas. The USDR began life as a volunteer technologist response to the pandemic. At the same time, the pandemic has greatly accelerated support for broadband and digital equity work nationwide, serving as it does as a tangible lesson in why it’s so important for everyone to have Internet access at home.

“The painful realities of the digital divide are linked to availability, access and affordability: while broadband access is increasing, many people can’t afford it,” USDR wrote in its announcement post. “Connecting more communities with fast, affordable Internet in a way that meets all their residents’ needs has become a priority for governments.”

What this means, specifically, is that the USDR is now working to support state, local and tribal governments as they work to close the digital divide in their communities. This pledge of support from USDR comes at the same time as an influx of new funding for this work from the federal government.

The group has identified three key areas to focus on. Those are increase use of the Affordable Connectivity Program, support the FCC challenge process, and help with better maps for broadband decision-making.

To prepare for all of this work, USDR has spent the past six months holding listening sessions with a variety of government agencies and related organizations throughout the broadband and digital equity ecosystem, trying to understand both the needs in that space as well as the lessons that have been learned within it so far.

Along with its announcement, the USDR shared some of what it has learned, including that the capacity to deliver continues to evolve; rural and urban areas have vastly different needs in this work; there is a lot of support for this work but limited information; and that the USDR’s past and current engagements in other areas have prepared it to help for this as well.

Organizations and agencies interested in working with the USDR are encouraged to contact the group. (Zack Quaintance)


Digital Inclusion Week 2022 is scheduled to take place from Oct. 3 through Oct. 7. Since the start of the event in 2017, Digital Inclusion Week has gained popularity as a method of bringing momentum to digital equity movements across the country. The theme for 2022 is “Turning Our Moment into Movement,” aimed at recognizing a pivotal moment in digital inclusion work.

The event’s organizer, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), keeps a list of events on its website, as well as information on how to get involved. There will be both virtual and in-person events. Those interested in participating can find an activity on the website or create an activity that builds inclusion — whether that be through providing digital literacy training, affordable services or devices or increasing awareness about the digital divide.

Planning for the week is already underway, and for those that need help, NDIA’s Digital Inclusion Week Momentum Meetups offer a chance to connect with digital inclusion practitioners and get some tips. The first was held this week, but another will be held Sept. 15. (Julia Edinger)


A new study details the characteristics of counties in which there are low and high instances of residents on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The Digital Divide Index is available through Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development. Using information available up through 2020, the index takes a look at who the digital divide affects, offering information by county about ages, income levels, languages spoken and more.

The full study complete with graphs, conclusions and more can be found via Purdue University. (Zack Quaintance)


Federal investment in broadband expansion on tribal lands is not slowing down, with an announcement this week that the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded seven grants — totaling over $118.8 million — through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

The nearly $3 billion grant program is funded through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s Internet for All Initiative.

An additional Notice of Funding Opportunity for the remaining funds will be announced later this year. More information on the grant recipients and other federal programs that support high-speed Internet expansion can be found on the Internet for All website. (Julia Edinger)


Philadelphia has announced that its PHLConnectED program is now preparing for its third year, having so far enabled 22,500 new Internet connections in the city since it first launched in the summer of 2020.

For the uninitiated, PHLConnectED is a program that provides free Internet access in Philadelphia to the families of school-aged students in need. Like so many digital equity and broadband initiatives nationwide, this program was conceived as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, it was expected to run for two years, but it has now been extended to run for a third year.

The program has really helped contribute to Philadelphia’s broader Digital Equity Plan. In fact, city officials report that surveys have shown that as of 2021, 91 percent of households with school children there have Internet at home, which is up from roughly 70 percent among the same group as recently as 2019. (Zack Quaintance)


In other local news, the 2022 Digital Equity Grants for the city of Bloomington have been announced. The total investment through the grants this year is $50,000 for 11 local nonprofits. Last year, nine nonprofits were awarded funding.

“In this third year of the City’s Digital Equity Grants initiative, we’ve been gratified to see an increase in organizations applying for these grants,” said Information and Technology Services (ITS) Director Rick Dietz in the announcement.

The projects that have been awarded funding vary in scope, but each aims to help address digital equity challenges with access to broadband services, Internet-enabled devices and digital skills or that otherwise help bridge the city’s digital equity gaps. The program began as part of Mayor John Hamilton’s Recover Forward initiative for the city; this year, grants are funded from the ITS Department’s annual budget. More information about the grants and the city’s other digital equity work can be found on the city’s website. (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.