Digital Equity + Inclusion Programming
The Connect Illinois digital equity programming is a comprehensive approach designed to help communities identify and address existing broadband equity gaps, as well as to leverage new and existing sources of funding for long-term broadband equity.
To create an ecosystem of digital equity and inclusion, the State of Illinois introduced complementary programming to pair with its ongoing $420 million capital broadband investment that, combined, seeks to ensure affordable in-home broadband service, access to personal computers, digital literacy training, and ongoing technical support. Illinois is working alongside public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners to raise capital for and awareness of the digital equity challenges facing communities.
A collaborative effort between the Illinois Office of Broadband and the Illinois Innovation Network, Broadband Regional Engagement for Adoption + Digital Equity (READY) grants are being provided to qualified regional entities statewide to explore opportunities for equitable advances in the areas of broadband access, adoption, and utilization. The program is designed to identify current digital inequities as well as next steps in creating a digital inclusion ecosystem through regional collaboration among community and economic-development organizations, educators, local leaders, and other related stakeholders, and it seeks to provide scalable solutions for broadband utilization across all 10 Illinois economic development regions—including pressing current needs such as telehealth and remote learning.
A partnership of the Office of Broadband, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, and local philanthropy, the Illinois Connected Communities (ICC) program was launched in the summer of 2020 to help drive community planning for broadband access, adoption, and use implementation. Two initial rounds of state grant funding, combined with philanthropic dollars that underwrite the cost of expert consultative services and access to best-practice curricula, have been made available to assist local governments, libraries, schools, and various community organizations with planning and progress around broadband access, adoption, and utilization.
The first round was directed to 12 community-based organizations to assist with planning; round two communities will be announced in spring 2021.
To support community digital equity needs, the Office of Broadband and program partners are building digital navigator capacity within communities around the state. Navigators will work to address the digital inclusion process—including home connectivity, devices, and digital skills. Digital navigators will assess residents' needs and connect them to resources that match their households' lifestyles. These navigators can be volunteers or cross-trained staff who already work in social service agencies, libraries, health care, and elsewhere, and they will offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance. An initial cohort will be provided with expert training as well as the opportunity to work directly with project partners on resource establishment and digital equity mapping.
The implementation of this comprehensive Connect Illinois digital equity programming builds on concerted efforts by the Pritzker administration to increase broadband capacity and is critical for the economic growth of Illinois communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.