Following the passage of An Act Relative to Immediate COVID-19 Recovery Needs, also known as Massachusetts “ARPA 1.0” legislation (codified as Chapter 102 of the Acts of 2021), a $50 million Broadband Innovation Fund was established to bridge the digital divide as a component of the Commonwealth’s COVID recovery and response efforts. MBI seeks to designate approximately 10-15 Partners as qualified organizations that can implement a suite of digital equity projects that meet the goals outlined in the state’s legislation.
Partners will be expected to work with organizations such as community development corporations (CDCs), community-based organizations (CBOs), municipalities and municipal agencies, public housing authorities, community colleges, local and regional school districts, healthcare and telehealth organizations (including federally qualified community health centers), and other entities as sub-awardees to implement digital equity projects.
MBI has identified six program areas, summarized below, that align with the legislative goals of the Broadband Innovation Fund and meet federal requirements established by the US Treasury for the use of Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLRF).
Eligible organizations include but are not limited to:
- Regional Planning Agencies,
- Philanthropic foundations,
- Public and nonprofit service providers, or
- Other nonprofit organizations with a clear geographic constituency or area of relevant technical expertise.
MassTech will allow Partnerships with individual organizations and coalitions of multiple organizations, as long as there is a clearly defined lead applicant in response to any solicitation.
Interested organizations, or coalitions of organizations, can apply to become partners by following the instructions outlined in the Digital Equity Partnerships Solicitation. Partnerships will be enrolled on a rolling basis until such a time that MassTech deems it has sufficient capacity to fully execute the Partnerships.
WiFi Access Initiative
WiFi systems in affordable (public housing or otherwise subsidized by federal or state sources) multi-unit buildings or in low income neighborhoods will provide free, in unit, broadband use. Partners will work with affordable housing developers, public housing officials and other property owners to identify properties whose residents face either an affordability or adoption barrier to a household broadband subscription. Adoption barriers include language barriers, lack of needed documentation to sign up for an internet subscription, other literacy challenges and/or affordability and financial concerns.
Once a target location (a property, group of properties or neighborhood) is identified, the Partner organization will procure the needed technical assistance, if necessary, to design an appropriate technology solution to providing in-unit WiFi internet access in the building(s), as well as a building-level internet subscription that will be held by the property owner. The Partner will then grant funds to the property owner to procure the services directly from a qualified vendor. Once procured, the Partner will work with the housing owner(s)/developer(s) to ensure the effective installation of such a system and the ongoing functionality and maintenance of the WiFi for residents.
Public Space Internet Modernization Initiative
Improvements to inadequate broadband infrastructure and digital use in public spaces to increase daily use and services. Partners will provide grants to entities that currently, or as a result of broadband improvements could, feature public internet use as a service to users of the space. These entities include libraries, community centers, senior centers, educational facilities, workforce training locations, commercial corridors, or other locations that serve the target populations and can illustrate the need for improved public infrastructure that meets the Program’s Goals and Outcomes.
Partners will work the entities described above to develop a plan and cohesive set of materials/equipment designed to increase users and services available in that space. Partners will support procurement of services and technical architecture/equipment as needed.
Connectivity Initiative for Economic Hardship
The provision of WiFi cellular hot spots, such as jetpacks, to individuals lacking stable housing where they are unable to have a fixed broadband internet subscription will provide broadband connectivity to this vulnerable population. Partners will work with organizations that provide social services to homeless or transitional individuals/families to deploy cellular hotspots to ensure that this population has access to the internet. These organizations include anti-poverty agencies, homeless shelters, social service providers, healthcare providers, food distribution entities, libraries, and other groups that serve the target population.
Partners will work with the service providers to develop a suite of technologies and devices that meet the specific needs of this population. Grant funds will then be provided for the procurement of that equipment and related service plans.
Digital Literacy Initiative
Establish and implement digital literacy training programs to ensure that target populations have the requisite skills to use devices, online resources, and digital tools to needed effect. Partners will work with sub-awardees such as community based organizations (CBOs), community colleges, healthcare providers, libraries, senior centers, councils on aging (COAs), educational entities, youth groups, and other organizations that serve the target population to determine the appropriate scale of digital literacy training that meets the needs of the end user along the continuum of digital literacy – ranging from basic computer schools to digital navigator and digital stewardship models.
Partners will either directly provide digital literacy training or assist in the procurement of a digital literacy provider and the implementation of digital literacy services. Partners will be able to augment these digital literacy programs with the provision of assistance for devices access, childcare, transportation, or other upstream barriers that would prevent an end user from taking advantage of potential literacy programming, in alignment with guidance provided by US Treasury.
Device Distribution and Refurbishment Program
Secure new or used internet-connected devices that can be distributed to target populations. For used devices, individuals will be trained to refurbish devices. Used devices will be properly refurbished before distribution to end users. Partners will work with organizations or groups of organizations, who can individually or collaboratively support the activities described above, including community based organizations, workforce training providers, educational entities, non-profits, and private businesses. For projects involving the refurbishment of used devices, Partners will work with sub-awardees to procure or seek donations of used devices to meet the specific needs of the community the program aims to serve.
Education, Outreach, and Adoption
A component of MBI’s approach to breaking down barriers to broadband adoption involves increasing the number of Massachusetts residents participating in the Digital Equity Partnership Initiative programs and the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (“ACP”). Partners will work with sub-awardees that provide direct assistance to the target populations defined in the Population Served section of this Program Design to ensure that effective outreach, education and adoption assistance is available in concert with the above programs to ensure their maximum impact. This outreach may involve workshops, call center phone banking, door to door outreach, online or printed communications, public service announcements, and other media activities as deemed necessary.
For questions or additional information about the Digital Equity Partnerships Program, please contact us at email@example.com.