From Hennepin County – big investment in the future and an opportunity to keep an eye on Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion for good ideas…
On Tuesday, July 20, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners authorized the use of up to $10 million in federal funding to continue the county’s efforts in eliminating the digital divide. A newly created Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion will take action to reduce disparities in access to broadband internet and support for digital literacy.
“We believe digital equity is foundational for strong post-pandemic society,” said Chela Guzmán-Wiegert, Assistant County Administrator for Disparity Reduction. “We intend to leverage all available resources to meet this need in our most impacted communities.”
The COVID-19 pandemic magnified a longstanding gap between connected communities and areas that lack the infrastructure to participate in an increasingly digital world. With input from community, local government, business, and non-profit partners the Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion will create a Digital Equity Plan to guide efforts to eliminate the digital divide.
In 2020, Hennepin County leveraged CARES Act funding to launch Connecting Hennepin, an initiative to address three critical areas of the digital divide: devices, connectivity, and digital literacy. With the help of community organizations and distribution partner PCs for People, the initiative provided more than 8,000 laptops to residents who lacked reliable access to technology. Connecting Hennepin also piloted a program to help residents secure internet hotspots or subsidized internet services.
Infrastructure, devices, and education
The Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion will pursue opportunities to deepen broadband penetration throughout Hennepin County and leverage the county’s existing fiber-optic infrastructure to help resolve broadband gaps through public-private partnerships with internet service providers.
Federal funding through the American Recovery Act will also support:
- Community-based digital navigation and technology adoption
- Education for digital literacy, privacy, and internet safety
- Free, low-cost, or loaned computers for county clients and other prioritized residents
Emergency Broadband Benefit
Connecting Hennepin is currently promoting the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), a federal program designed to reduce internet costs. The program provides discounted or free internet to many households. Learn more about the EBB and other Connecting Hennepin programs at hennepin.us/tech.