New equity initiative to bridge digital divide for households across illinois

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Governor JB Pritzker (D-IL) and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Office of Broadband announced a new Digital Equity Package, enlisting state, local, nonprofit, and philanthropic support to address gaps in digital access, adoption, and affordability for high-speed internet access. The comprehensive approach is 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. New plans to spearhead digital equity for Illinois build on Governor Pritzker's bold Connect Illinois program, a $420 million investment to bring universal access throughout the state by 2024.  
 This move directs an initial $750,000 to advance these goals through complementary grants and programming to promote broadband planning and capacity building and to aid in the creation of the nation's first integrated statewide network for improving digital equity and inclusion - namely, by addressing gaps in household access to computing devices, hotspot connectivity, and digital literacy skills.

Broadband READY Grants - $250,000
A collaborative effort between the Illinois Office of Broadband and the Illinois Innovation Network, the Broadband Regional Engagement for Adoption + Digital Equity (READY) grants will direct $250,000 to qualified regional entities statewide to explore opportunities for equitable advances in the areas of broadband access, adoption, and utilization. Grant awards of up to $50,000 will identify current digital inequities as well as next steps in creating a digital inclusion ecosystem through regional collaboration among community and economic development organizations, education, local leaders, and other related stakeholders. The program seeks to provide scalable solutions for broadband utilization across all ten Illinois economic development regions - including pressing needs such as telehealth and remote learning. The Illinois Innovation Network will contribute $100,000 to support the effort, which will leverage emerging resources in statewide computer refurbishing and digital navigator capacity.

Illinois Connected Communities Grants - $150,000
A partnership by the Office of Broadband, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, and local philanthropic organizations, the Illinois Connected Communities (ICC) program was first launched in the summer of 2020 to help drive community planning and capacity building. A total of $150,000 in second round state funding, combined with philanthropic dollars that underwrites the cost of expert consultative services, and access to best practice curriculum, will be made available to assist local governments, libraries, schools, and various local organizations with planning and progress around broadband access, adoption, and utilization. 

Digital Navigator Collaboration
To support community digital equity needs, the Office of Broadband will partner with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and PCs for People to establish 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 with 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, healthcare, and more and who will offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance. A cohort of qualified applicants will be provided with expert training as well as the opportunity to work directly with project partners on resource establishment and digital equity mapping.

Governor Pritzker Announces Commitment to Digital Equity With $750,000 Investment to Expand Access and Adoption of High-Speed In