Illinois Governor Jay Robert Pritzker, alongside the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, has announced a Digital Equity Package worth approximately three-quarter of a million dollars to tackle the digital divide that exists in the state. This is as part of the “Connect Illinois” project, a $420 million push for universal broadband access in Illinois by 2024 that saw Pritzker launching a $50 million investment in broadband infrastructure earlier in 2020 for high-speed access to more than 26,000 homes, farms, and businesses, and a second $50 million round of Connect Illinois funding announced in October as part of the same plan.
This latest step aims to address, specifically, issues of household access to computing devices, hotspot connectivity, and digital literacy skills, with Pritzker saying that, as part of the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan, the state was launching the Connect Illinois investment project to expand broadband capacity and connectivity. In addition to Pritzker’s comments, Director of Illinoi’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity stated that the emphasized need to work from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the move toward access to high speed internet even more necessary.
Illinois Office of Broadband will also be partnering with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and PCsforPeople to facilitate the process of establishing community-based Digital Navigators, where a Digital Navigator is an individual who addresses the whole digital inclusion process — home connectivity, devices, and digital skills — with community members through repeated interactions. Director of the NDIA, the body responsible for the Digital Navigators program, Angela Siefer has stated that:
“So many communities within one state will have the support they need to create plans and implement Digital Navigator programs is incredible. The State of Illinois is creating a model that will inspire and encourage other states and regions. NDIA is honored to be supporting the State of Illinois in their multi-pronged approach to address digital equity.”