What’s New in Civic Tech: Grants Power Grassroots Digital Equity


[ Article originally appeared in https://greenlining.org ]

By Zack Quaintance and Julia Edinger
Government Technology

The nonprofit organization The Greenlining Institute has announced grants for 10 grassroots organizations in Oakland, Calif., that are working on digital equity projects and initiatives.

The grants are being made through a program called The Town Link, which is a partnership between Greenlining and the city. The overarching goals of the initiative are to increase Internet adoption among residents while also bolstering digital literacy for members of communities that have traditionally lacked Internet access.

This work comes following a Greenlining report that found a connection between communities in the East Bay area that lack broadband and neighborhoods that were redlined starting back in the 1930s.

“As an incubator of innovative policy ideas and an advocate for transformative change, Greenlining exemplifies the values of an Oakland Undivided leadership partner,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in a statement. “Together, our collective impact will ensure that all Oakland public school students have access to the tools at home necessary for a 21st century education: a personal computer, reliable Internet, and culturally responsive tech support.”

In Oakland, 10 community groups will receive $10,000 each, funded by the city. Those groups are El Timpano, Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI), Allen Temple Baptist Church, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Homies Empowerment, Oakland Workers Fund, The Unity Council, Roots Community Health Center, St. Mary’s Center, and the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay.

The funding will primarily enable these groups to put computers and tablets in the hands of residents who lack the devices. In addition, it will also go toward training and educational workshops around digital literacy in their communities.

This — and other efforts like it — is part of a growing trend of local government partnering across sectors to address digital literacy. While the work has existed and been important for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of having all residents connected to the Internet and able to use it for vital services. As a result, there has been increased support across sectors — from local government to nonprofits to philanthropies to private companies — for digital inclusion. (Zack Quaintance)


Los Angeles County, which is the most populous county in the nation, is considering a wide-spanning digital equity report that might have the potential to lead to rapid large-scale deployment of solutions aimed at bringing Internet access to every resident in the county.

The report comes from the internal services department, and it is titled Utilizing Existing Infrastructure and Resources to Accelerate Digital Equity. It’s a public report, submitted late last month, and it includes options for a county-owned municipal broadband service, as well as public-private partnerships, and a set of RFI proposals received from service providers that could lead to new access for as many as 300,000 households that currently lack Internet.

The intention behind all of this is to find effective options that could lead to bolstered Internet access throughout Los Angeles County by the end of the calendar year. (Zack Quaintance)


San Jose, Calif., has launched an initiative that will pilot the use of cryptocurrency to help residents pay for Internet over the course of six months.

For this initiative, HNT cryptocurrency tokens will be mined through Helium Hotspot devices in partnership with the California Emerging Technology Fund and Helium. The tokens will be turned into prepaid cash cards to help approximately 1,300 low-income residents pay their Internet costs for one year.

Twenty Helium-compatible hot spots will be deployed and installed over the pilot period. The devices mine the currency with limited environmental impact, needing only the energy of an LED light bulb. In addition, the devices will contribute to the Internet of Things infrastructure, offering improved air quality monitoring, fire detection and other climate-related opportunities to the city.

San Jose is no stranger to the use of civic tech approaches in the service of fostering digital equity, with recent developments such as a digital platform to connect residents with mental health resources and expanding the city’s Digital Inclusion Fund.

Those interested in hosting a Helium hot spot in the city can fill out an online form(Julia Edinger)


Vanderburgh County, Ind., has announced a $39 million project with AT&T that aims to bring high-speed fiber broadband to more than 20,000 households and businesses. According to the announcement, about one-third of the people in unincorporated Vanderburgh County do not presently have dependable broadband access.

The project depends on both funding approval by the county and the signing of a final contract between the two parties. When approved, the county is expected to invest $9.9 million and AT&T would invest $29.7 million. The network is projected to be completed roughly two years following the final agreement.

This is not AT&T’s first investment in Indiana; between 2018-2020, the company has invested over a billion dollars towards improving connectivity in the state. In addition to helping residents and business owners, that investment has helped improve communications through the FirstNet network. (Julia Edinger)

SOURCE: https://greenlining.org/press/news/2021/grassroots-digital-equity/

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