Springfield, Mass. – Leaders from the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Economic Development and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at MassTech announced $14 million in new grants from the state’s Digital Equity Partnerships Program to address statewide digital equity gaps during an event today at The Tech Foundry in Springfield. The three grants were announced by Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao, who highlighted the selected projects from Tech Goes Home, which will receive $4.5 million,; Vinfen, on behalf of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity, which will receive $4.3 million; and Baystate Health, on behalf of the Western MA Alliance for Digital Equity, which will receive $5.1 million.
“Massachusetts has a real opportunity to close the digital divide and ensure all people in our state can participate in the digital economy,” said Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao. “These grants will help residents build their digital skills and get online affordably, thereby expanding their connections to job and training opportunities, healthcare resources, social connections, and so much more. We are grateful to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute for its work to make affordable high-speed internet available to residents across the state.”
The secretary was joined at the event by business and nonprofit leaders from across the state, highlighting the critical need for increased digital connectivity for residents statewide, an issue that grew in importance during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Following the secretary’s remarks, Mass Mutual Financial Group Chairman President & CEO Roger Crandall spoke about the issue, appearing in his role as a board member of the Mass. Competitive Partnership, which published a 2022 report “Connecting Communities through Digital Equity” highlighting the importance of addressing digital equity statewide.
“Internet access is a crucial driver of economic and social advancement – from fostering innovation and creating new jobs to utilizing government and community services,” said Crandall. “Yet far too many households in Massachusetts lack broadband service, creating a significant barrier to many career and educational opportunities. The business community has a collective responsibility to help address this inequity by continuing to invest in and expand access to digital infrastructure, literacy programs, and affordable digital tools for all residents throughout the Commonwealth.”
The event included a roundtable discussion with executives from the three organizations, which pointed to the digital equity challenges Massachusetts citizens face each day and how the awarded projects aim to increase connectivity and access. The grants will support two years of critical digital equity project development and implementation across the state. Full project summaries highlighting the lead grantee, project partners, geographic focus areas, and key technical focus areas of each project are included at the end of the release.
"This historic funding will enable Tech Goes Home to meaningfully expand our proven digital equity programming in more than a dozen communities statewide," said Dan Noyes, CEO of Tech Goes Home, "and it will allow us to deepen our support for community-based organizations working to advance digital equity for the people they serve. We are grateful for increased, direct investment that reflects the urgency of closing the digital divide and ensuring that more people in Massachusetts have access to the digital tools, internet access, and culturally-responsive training they need to take full advantage of the opportunities and resources afforded by the digital world."
“On behalf of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity, we are thrilled to be awarded one of the first round Digital Equity grants," said Kim Shellenberger, Vinfen’s Chief Strategy Officer. "In today’s world, technology access and digital skills are no longer a luxury and this grant will enable our organizations to provide crucial support services to reduce the digital divide among people with disabilities and people with mental health challenges.”
“The genesis of the Alliance for Digital Equity in June 2020 was a direct response to digital disparity (not new) and our societal dependence on the internet to address to meeting basic material needs the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced,” said Dr. Frank Robinson, Vice President - Public Health at Baystate Health. “It was embarrassingly obvious that digital marginalization for already marginalized people would exacerbate negative health outcomes, economic oppression, and racial injustice. Digital equity and inclusion is truly a ‘super social determinant of health,’ critical to our meaningful progress toward health equity and satisfying basic human rights in this connected society, linking people to vital resources, such as jobs, education, health care, food, and information.”
The Digital Equity Partnerships Program was launched in September 2022 with the goal of designating qualified organizations to implement projects that meet the goals outlined in the Commonwealth’s ARPA COVID recovery legislation (Chapter 102 of the Acts of 2021), which created a $50 million fund to bridge the digital divide in the state. The program aims to select partners to work in six key program areas to expand connectivity options through:
- WiFi Access;
- Public Space Internet Modernization;
- Connectivity Initiative for Economic Hardship;
- Digital Literacy;
- Device Distribution and Refurbishment; &
- Education, Outreach and Adoption.
“Access to the internet is no longer optional in today’s world, providing education opportunities, access to employment, telehealth care, and so much more,” said State Senator Michael Moore, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity. “I’m thrilled that the Executive Office of Economic Development and MassTech have announced these grants to expand connectivity to more Bay Staters and fund critical programs to address disparities in digital literacy.”
“I am thrilled to see that Baystate Health, in partnership with the Western Massachusetts Alliance for Digital Equity, have been recognized by the Commonwealth’s Digital Equity Partnership Program and received a grant of $5.1 million to continue addressing the digital divide,” said State Senator Jo Comerford. “Thank you to Secretary Hao and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute for their leadership in tackling persistent and inequitable connectivity challenges.”
“The funds created by the ARPA COVID recovery legislation of 2021 represented a momentous step towards bridging the digital equity divide for Western Massachusetts. There are far too many unserved communities in this region of the Commonwealth who do not have simple access to Wi-Fi,” said State Senator Adam Gomez. “Communities in this region will now have substantially increased access to not only Wi-Fi, but also support for key programming areas such as digital literacy, public space internet modernization, and connectivity initiatives for economic hardship. Eliminating the digital equity divide in Western Mass is absolutely crucial to supporting a thriving economy. I’m thrilled to hear about today’s announcement and look forward to seeing this funding implemented!”
“I am thrilled to see $14 million in new grants from the Executive Office of Economic Development,” said Chair Tricia Farley-Bouvier, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity. “The funding from these grants is critical for my district, the Berkshires, and the rest of Western Massachusetts where internet access is not guaranteed, and the digital divide is vast.”
"While the state has made great strides to improve broadband and Wi-Fi access, there are still communities in the 1st Hampshire district that have been left behind, public housing that remains unwired, and towns that don't know how to fund projects that would level the playing field for all their residents,” said State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa. “The Digital Equity Partnership Program will assist these communities, providing important funding and assistance in learning how to incorporate this technology into their daily lives."
“I want to thank Governor Maura Healey and her administration, and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute at Mass Tech for their efforts and commitment to helping to connect more individuals to the internet and close the digital divide many residents experience,” stated Mayor Domenic J. Sarno of the City of Springfield. “My administration is proud to support the Commonwealth’s Digital Equity Partnership Program, a new initiative from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech, which aims to assist community partners and organizations so that they can connect with residents and households through digital equity projects that will work to eliminate and mitigate the barriers faced in accessing digital equity and help close the digital divide. Access to affordable and reliable internet is essential for our residents and achieving this goal will not only enhance the quality of life for many but will also help advance vital economic development projects and educational initiatives not only here in Springfield but across the Commonwealth.”
The state’s digital equity programs build on initiatives launched in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, which included public Wi-Fi hotspots in unserved towns in western and central Massachusetts, as well as the Mass Internet Connect program, which worked with MassHire to provide financial support and digital literacy tools to help get unemployed residents back to work. The MBI has also launched a Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program to support Massachusetts communities with planning activities that will help build a broad understanding of how a lack of internet access is impacting residents in their community, as well as a Broadband and Digital Equity Working Group comprised of stakeholders from across the state that will inform the makeup and focus of state programs, providing key technical expertise and representation of target populations.
“Our partner organizations are leaders in the digital equity field and have cultivated an incredible network of local stakeholders who will ensure these funds have maximum benefit to the communities they are designed to serve,” said Michael Baldino, MBI director. “Today’s grants, coupled with our municipal planning program and the engagement of our dedicated working group members, will ensure that the dollars invested lead to the desired impact – more residents will not only gain access to devices, digital skills, and more affordable internet, they will have access to a wider range of social, educational, and healthcare resources.”
The MBI also oversees the state’s Last Mile program, which has invested over $57 million in direct state grants to connect residents to high-speed internet infrastructure in 53 unserved or underserved communities and is the owner of MassBroadband 123, a 1,200-mile open access, fiber-optic “middle mile” network in western and north central Massachusetts that provides critical infrastructure for public facilities and high-speed broadband networks across the region.
|Lead Grantee||Tech Goes Home|
|Project Partners||Revere Community School, Community Builders, Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, Catholic Charitable Bureau of the Archdiocese, Boys and Girls Clubs of Lawrence, Brockton and New Bedford, ROCA, UTEC, Women Encouraging Empowerment, YMCAs of Brockton, Lawrence, Lynn, Malden, and Worcester, Abdelgadir Education Foundation|
|Geography||Gateway Cities: Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Quincy, Revere, Springfield, and Worcester|
|Project Summary||Tech Goes Home’s vision is to help Massachusetts become the first state in which all individuals have access to the digital tools, skills, and connectivity they need to thrive. This grant will support TGH in achieving this vision, by expanding its nationally recognized digital literacy programs in Gateway Cities.|
|Lead Grantee||Vinfen, on behalf of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity|
|Project Partners||Advocates, Behavioral Health Network, Boston Center for Independent Living, Clinical Support Options, Open Sky, Riverside Community Care|
|Geography||235 cities and towns of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity service area, in all counties except Dukes, Nantucket, and Bristol*|
|Program Focus Areas||
The goal of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity is to increase digital inclusion among eligible end beneficiaries of low-income people with physical, behavioral or cognitive disabilities and people who are homeless.
The Alliance will implement projects in the following four key focus areas (listed above), utilizing an approach that will:
The Tech Navigators will be employed by the eight organizations of the Alliance.
(*one Alliance organization, Riverside, does serve a small number of individuals in Taunton)
|Lead Grantee||Baystate Health, on behalf of the Western Mass. Alliance for Digital Equity|
|Project Partners||Community Foundation of Western MA, Public Health Institute of Western MA, Holyoke Community College, Springfield Partners for Community Action, Community Action Pioneer Valley, Berkshire Regional Planning Council, Berkshire Taconic Foundation, 3 County Continuum of Care Coalition, Hamden County Continuum of Care Coalition, Greenfield Community College, Springfield Technical Community College, Common Capital|
|Geography||101 cities and towns in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, & Berkshire counties|
|Program Focus Areas||
Baystate Health and the Western Mass Alliance for Digital Equity will work in the targeted geographies to reach residents with the greatest digital divide barriers through several targeted efforts:
About the Massachusetts Broadband Institute
A division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is working to extend high-speed internet access and availability across the Commonwealth. To achieve this, the MBI utilizes state and federal funding to launch infrastructure expansion programs that target areas of the state which lack high-speed internet access, as well as digital equity programs which tackle barriers to internet adoption and increase availability, addressing critical issues around affordability, enhanced public Wi-Fi, the need for internet-enabled devices, and digital literacy training. Learn more at https://broadband.masstech.org.