On March 31, Speaker Carl Heastie, alongside Science and Technology Committee Chair Steve Otis, approved the State of New York’s 2021-2022 Fiscal Year budget that includes a statewide Digital Inclusion Grant Program valued at $15 million, which aims to assist efforts to bridge the digital divide for New York’s digitally unserved and underserved populations.
Hastie described the COVID-19 pandemic as exacerbating pre-existing disparities that create the digital divide including access to technology and training. He stated that the grant program will address inequities in education employment and healthcare. Otis added that assistance to libraries will be a focal point of the grant given the role that they play in providing access to technology within their communities.
NDIA’s Angela Siefer commented on the grant approval, saying that while the Federal government has moved to fund home broadband access, New York’s state Digital Inclusion Grant Program will support the work needed to help digitally marginalized populations sign up for, and make the most of, home broadband.
TheState Education Department (SED) will administer the grant program and the grants will be made available on an application basis to non-profits, schools, libraries, local governments, municipal housing authorities and other community-based organizations seeking to provide digital inclusion programs.
Similarly, as part of a $3.9 billion allocation of COVID-19 relief funding from the latest federal law, Maryland is committing $300 million toward broadband and digital equity initiatives. Funding will prioritize digital connectivity, as well as unemployment insurance, schools, transportation and assistance programs for the hardest-hit by the pandemic and economic downturn. The funding bill breaks down resource allocation into three distinct areas: physical infrastructure, affordability and adoption with the bulk of the adoption funds earmarked for programs that will develop local capacity. Of the $300 million allocation, $83 million will support affordability and adoption initiatives including $4 million for a new University System of Maryland division for supporting, training and developing curriculum for bridging the digital divide, $2 million for digital navigator programs, and $2 million for a digital inclusion fund.
At present, 23% of Maryland homes lack wireline home broadband services. As reasons households may not adopt broadband are multi-faceted and nuanced, allocating funds to simultaneously address all the barriers to broadband adoption is a model other states and local governments should consider as they contemplate ways to close their community’s digital divide.