Named for Charles Benton, the founder of Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, NDIA created the awards to recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting the ideal of accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans to crafting programs and policies that make it a reality.

Congratulations to the 2021 Champions!

Geoff Millener, 2021 Emerging Leader, is the Senior Program and Operations Officer at The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which has a growing reputation as one of the best-wired cities in the country. But Geoff realizes that Chattanooga can’t reach its full potential unless it is a digitally equitable city. During the COVID-19 emergency, Geoff collaborated with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools, and the municipal broadband provider, The Electric Power Board (EPB), to map out areas with the highest needs and then implement 125 new Wi-Fi access points. He has been a driving force in Hamilton County Schools EdConnect which brought no-cost high-speed internet to 13,000 students’ homes. Geoff has also pushed for the use of data to understand the impact of EdConnect. He is part of a small group collaborating with a research team from Boston College to collect baseline data and monitor how the program impacts education, health and other aspects of life. And he helped to raise more than $8 million to support local digital equity efforts in the last year.

Monica Babine, 2021 Digital Equity Champion, has worked for Washington State University Extension’s Division of Governmental Studies & Services as Senior Associate of the Program for Digital Initiatives. She created the Broadband Action Team model and serves as a valuable resource for local leaders interested in broadband planning. These teams are growing across Washington State, engaging people to identify local digital divides and make plans to bridge them. Recently the State of Washington highlighted Monica’s model as a best practice, and Governor Jay Inslee included funding in his biennial budget to develop a formal statewide program. Monica focuses on rural communities, working tirelessly to bring together citizens that need service with policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels to make ubiquitous broadband access a reality. Monica organized several rural broadband summits in 2019 with the State of Washington and the U.S. Department of Agriculture after the passage of legislation establishing Washington’s Broadband Office and infrastructure program. And Monica was instrumental in providing input to Senator Patty Murray’s staff as they drafted the Digital Equity Act of 2019.