On November 17, 2020, the Governor announced a commitment to digital equity through an investment of $750,000 intended to lessen the digital divide throughout the state. This investment is part of the Governor’s $420 million Connect Illinois initiative to bring universal internet access to all Illinois households by 2024. The recent financial commitment will provide complementary grants available to various Illinois entities, including libraries. Such grants include the Illinois Connected Community Grant Program. In July, the first round of this program directed funds to 12 community-based organizations to assist with ensuring access, adoption and utilization of high-speed broadband. The second round will provide a total of $150,000 in grants to local governments, libraries, schools and other local organizations to support the planning for universal broadband access, adoption and utilization. According to Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss, “[o]ne of the many rationales for standing up the Illinois Connected Communities program was to give communities a comprehensive set of options for ‘next steps’ in their broadband journey.” The Notice of Funding Opportunity for this initiative can be found here.
In addition to funding available through the Illinois Connected Communities Grant, the Governor’s announcement outlined the partnership between the Office of Broadband and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and PCs for People to utilize community members to establish digital navigator capacity. Digital navigators will be provided expert training and the chance to work directly with project partners on resource establishment, as well as digital equity mapping. The role of these navigators will be to support digital inclusion through home connectivity, devices and digital skills. Navigators will individually assess a resident’s individual needs and provide specific resources to match their lifestyle. The intent is to utilize volunteers or cross-trained staff, such as individuals that work in libraries, to take on the role of navigators and provide remote and socially distant in-person support. The Notice of Collaboration Opportunity can be found here.