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.