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Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) awarded $5.1 million to Baystate Health on behalf of the Alliance for Digital Equity in Western Massachusetts.

“Baystate Heath, along with the Alliance and MBI, share the purpose and primary goal of the Digital Equity Partnerships Program to ensure that low-income communities and households in the Western Massachusetts region, including those in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties, have access to a wide range of digital equity support and services,” said Frank Robinson, vice president of Public Health at Baystate Health.

The mission of the Alliance is to assure digital equity for all people, including access to the skills, computer equipment, and reliable high-speed internet needed to operate in the digital world. The Alliance believes that digital equity is necessary for people to fully participate in modern society. It plays a vital role as part of overall personal and community equity because all major parts of life — including health, housing, food, education, employment, childcare, banking, transportation, and civic engagement — have gone online.

A network of collaborating organizations (NCOs), all of which are sub-award grant recipients to Baystate, the primary grant recipient, will implement digital-equity solutions. NCOs include the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, Tech Foundry, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College, Way Finders, the Springfield Housing Authority, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Community Action Pioneer Valley, Springfield Partners for Community Action, Viability, the New North Citizens Council, the Center for New Americans, Stavros, the Greenfield Housing Authority, Common Capital, and Western New England University. These organizations will establish and administer projects in one or more of the following four program areas:

• Digital Literacy Initiative: $2,299,235 for NCOs to establish digital-literacy training programs to ensure that target populations have the requisite skills to use devices, online resources, and digital tools;

• Connectivity Initiative for Economic Hardship: $689,313 for broadband connectivity to vulnerable populations through the provision of Wi-Fi cellular hot spots, such as jetpacks, to individuals lacking stable housing and are unable to have a fixed broadband internet subscription;

• Public Space Internet Modernization Initiative: $813,221 for NCOs to make improvements to inadequate broadband infrastructure and digital use in public spaces and increase daily use and services; and

• Outreach and Enrollment: $1,347,693 for breaking down barriers to broadband adoption, which involves increasing the number of Western Mass. residents participating in the Digital Equity Partnership Initiative programs and the Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

NCOs will work with target populations to ensure that effective outreach, education, and adoption assistance is available in concert with other project initiatives to ensure their maximum impact. This outreach will involve in-person workshops, call-center phone banking, door-to-door outreach, online or printed communications, public-service announcements, and other media activities as deemed necessary.

Initiatives are intended to provide services and support for residents of the Commonwealth who cannot afford broadband service and/or internet-connected devices or lack the digital-literacy skills needed to utilize the internet.

Daily News

WESTERN MASS. — State legislators, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission will conclude a five-part series of virtual information sessions on available state and federal funding on Tuesday, Dec. 13 from 3 to 4 p.m., with a briefing by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute about funding available to municipalities for closing the digital divide. Sessions are geared toward municipal leaders.

Through these workshops, organizers have sought to increase capacity and local understanding of grant-funding opportunities available from the state and federal governments and to increase the number of successful grant applications on a range of issues from economic development to the arts to climate resilience — and beyond.

“The intent of this grant series is to provide small and rural municipal staff and officials with information about state grant sources and, importantly, give our communities the opportunity to ask questions directly of funders,” said Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

State Sen. Jo Comerford added that “we are delighted that this workshop series has helped break down barriers so that Western Mass. municipal leaders have as much support as possible to access critical and well-deserved state funding. We will absolutely return in the next session to build on and expand this work.”

State Rep. Natalie Blais noted that “workshops like this, offered with the partnership and support of our state partners, provide communities with the information necessary to identify funding streams and increase their likelihood of success.”

These sessions have been co-planned by the offices of Blais, Comerford, and state Sens. Anne Gobi, Adam Gomez, Adam Hinds, Eric Lesser, and John Velis, and co-hosted by the Western Mass. state legislative delegation.

The final workshop on Dec. 13 will feature the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), which will discuss the conditions that exacerbate the digital divide, new digital equity programs recently launched by MBI, and the federal funding landscape for broadband and digital-equity investments in the Commonwealth. Workshop attendees will hear about the importance of municipal digital-equity plans and the opportunity for towns and cities to access digital-equity planning support through MBI’s Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program.

Starting this past April, the group of regional planning agencies and legislators organized four previous workshops focused on the Community One Stop for Growth grant program, federal and state transportation grant opportunities , energy and environmental grant opportunities, and cultural, historical, and technological grant opportunities. More than 175 municipal leaders from the four western counties registered for the workshop series, with approximately 70 people joining each workshop and more than 100 people viewing each workshop recording.

The group is looking to host another grant series in the new year, which will again aim to bring together municipal leaders and state funders while also including additional opportunities available to nonprofits and available federal funds.

All municipal officials and municipal committee members are welcome to register for the final session by clicking here. All sessions are also recorded.