2021 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
2021 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards
Remarks of Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director,
Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
A sign in front of a church not far from my home has for the past many months read: “We’ll get through this together by staying apart.” As Spring is here and we awaken from more than a year of social distancing, we gather today to celebrate the people who helped their communities come together.
Named for Charles Benton, the founding father of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, the digital equity awards I present today recognize leadership and dedication in advancing the ability of all of us to fully participate in our increasingly digital society by ensuring everyone has the access and skills they need to make use of the internet. Our months combatting COVID-19 have only spotlighted this reality.
Before I present the champions, I want to thank the National Digital Inclusion Alliance selection committee and recognize the work they put into reviewing the outstanding pool of candidates. Digital equity work is valuable and impactful, but challenging to compare. My colleague Robbie McBeath, who chaired the committee, informed me that his colleagues engaged in very deep, thoughtful discussions— a testament to the inspiring digital equity work happening all across the country.
Today, I present Monica Babine with the 2021 Digital Equity Champion Award which recognizes an outstanding individual who has made a difference in the field of digital equity. Monica 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 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.
“Monica’s knowledge of broadband, communities, policies, and programs is broad and deep,” said the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Karen Perry. “But what is more impressive is how [Monica] can energize others to take action to improve broadband in their communities.”
We are also honoring Geoff Millener today with the Charles Benton Emerging Leader Award which acknowledges an up-and-coming digital inclusion practitioner. Geoff 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.
Geoff himself may have captured his work best by saying:
When the disconnected fall behind the curve in an increasingly online world, they can find themselves alienated from the resources right outside their front door. Supporting residents through relationships, networking, and agency to engage on their own terms—the fundamental work of digital inclusion—is one way forward in a world dictated by both geography and connectivity.
Monica and Geoff, I am honored to present these awards to you both today. Thank you for your efforts to ensure that we all will be connected, be we apart or together.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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