The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has awarded $5.1 million to Baystate Health on behalf of the Alliance for Digital Equity in western Massachusetts.
“Baystate Heath along with the Alliance and MBI share the purpose and primary goal of the Digital Equity Partnerships Program (DEPP) to ensure that low-income communities and households in the western Massachusetts region, including those in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties, have access to a wide range of digital equity support and services,” said Frank Robinson, vice president, Public Health, at Baystate Health.
The mission of the Alliance is to assure digital equity for all people, including access to the skills, computer equipment, and reliable high-speed internet needed to operate in the digital world. The Alliance believes that digital equity is necessary for people to fully participate in modern society. It plays a vital role as part of overall personal and community equity because all major parts of life - including health, housing, food, education, employment, childcare, banking, transportation, and civic engagement - have gone online.
COLLABORATORS AND INITIATIVES
A Network of Collaborating Organizations (NCOs), all of which are subaward grant recipients to Baystate, the primary grant recipient, will implement digital equity solutions. NCOs include: Public Health Institute, Tech Foundry, Community Foundation of Western Mass, Holyoke Community College, Way Finders, Springfield Housing Authority, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Community Action Pioneer Valley, Springfield Partners for Community Action, Viability, New North Citizens Council, Center for New Americans, Stavros, Greenfield Housing Authority, Common Capital, and Western New England University. These organizations will establish and administer projects in one or more of the following four program areas:
- Digital Literacy Initiative – $2,299,235 for NCOs to establish digital literacy training programs to ensure that target populations have the requisite skills to use devices, online resources, and digital tools. NCOs will collaborate with community-based organizations, community colleges, healthcare providers, libraries, senior centers, councils on aging, educational entities, youth groups, and other organizations to deliver digital literacy training that meets the needs of the end user along the continuum– ranging from basic computer skills to digital navigator and digital stewardship models.
- Connectivity Initiative for Economic Hardship - $689,313 for broadband connectivity to vulnerable populations through the provision of Wi-Fi cellular hot spots, such as Jetpacks, to individuals lacking stable housing and are unable to have a fixed broadband internet subscription. NCOs will work with other organizations that provide social services to homeless or transitional individuals/families to deploy cellular hotspots to enable this population to access the internet. These organizations include anti-poverty agencies, homeless shelters, social service providers, healthcare providers, and food distribution sites.
- Public Space Internet Modernization Initiative - $813,221 for NCOs to make improvements to inadequate broadband infrastructure and digital use in public spaces and increase daily use and services. NCOs will provide grants to entities that currently, or because of broadband improvements, could feature public internet use as a service to users of the space. These entities include libraries, community centers, senior centers, educational facilities, workforce training locations, commercial corridors, or other locations that serve the target populations and can illustrate the need for improved public infrastructure.
- Outreach and Enrollment - $1,347, 693 for breaking down barriers to broadband adoption, involves increasing the number of western Massachusetts residents participating in the Digital Equity Partnership Initiative programs and FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). NCOs will work with target populations to ensure that effective outreach, education, and adoption assistance is available in concert with other Project Initiatives to ensure their maximum impact. This outreach will involve in-person workshops, call center phone banking, door to door outreach, online or printed communications, public service announcements, and other media activities as deemed necessary.
Initiatives are intended to provide services and support for residents of the Commonwealth who cannot afford broadband service and/or internet-connected devices or lack the digital literacy skills needed to utilize the internet.