Event Co-Hosted by National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Mass. Broadband Institute
Statewide Listening Sessions Launched to Get Feedback on Accessibility, Access Challenges to Shape State Plans
WORCESTER – Over 250 community, business, and nonprofit leaders assembled at Worcester’s Union Station on Tuesday, June 13th, for Internet for All: Massachusetts Broadband & Digital Equity Summit, an event organized by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI). The event included talks and panels featuring community executives, government officials, labor representatives, industry speakers, and broadband and digital equity experts who spoke about best practices to deliver affordable, reliable high-speed internet access to citizens across Massachusetts.
Keynote remarks at the event were provided by Kevin Gallagher, Senior Advisor to the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce (the parent agency of the NTIA); Quentin Palfrey, Massachusetts Director of Federal Funds and Infrastructure, and Ashley Stolba, Undersecretary of Economic Foundations at the Massachusetts Executive Office Economic Development. Attendees also heard taped remarks from U.S. Senator Ed Markey, a member of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which oversees broadband.
“Affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet is essential to providing economic and social opportunity for all,” said Kevin Gallagher, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce on Upskilling and Broadband. "We're working with everyone to ensure that federal investments coming to Massachusetts are going to those who need it most."
“Massachusetts has an opportunity to make great strides to address the digital divide over the coming years, using state and federal funds to get more people the much-needed access to affordable high-speed internet, tools, and training that prevent them from accessing the internet,” said Quentin Palfrey, Director of Federal Funds & Infrastructure, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “We thank our partners at the U.S. Department of Commerce and the NTIA for joining with our state team to put on this event.”
“Today’s event kicks off the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s effort to gather critical input from stakeholders across Massachusetts about best how to help communities that continue to need support around digital equity,” said Ashley Stolba, Undersecretary of Economic Foundations in the Executive Office of Economic Development. “We’ve made so much progress over the last decade on expanding infrastructure and connectivity in the state. With the help of federal funding, we can supercharge those efforts and broaden our programming to achieve our goal of connectivity for all.”
"I applaud Massachusetts, the NTIA, and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute for hosting this important summit to coordinate on strategy for delivering reliable high-speed internet to every corner of Massachusetts," said Senator Markey. "From Berkshires to Boston, we can ensure that unserved and underserved communities get the digital infrastructure they need to stay connected across our Commonwealth. I will continue to fight for critical funding and policies which move us one step closer to ending today's digital divide.”
At the event, the MBI announced the Internet for All Listening Tour, a series of regional meetings and focus groups that will inform the development of federal funding plans that will help Massachusetts access broadband and digital equity funding from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The listening sessions, which will start in July, are an opportunity for the public to share their experiences, ideas, and vision for a connected Massachusetts, tackling key questions around internet access, adoption, affordability, digital skills training, and device availability. In addition, focus groups will gather input directly from covered populations and underrepresented communities identified by the federal programs. Details on the listening sessions will be updated over time and can be found at: https://broadband.masstech.org/internetforall.
The MBI has also launched a new funding opportunity for community-based organizations to apply for mini-grants to partner with the MBI and get assistance in gathering information about the impact of the digital divide in the state. Organizations interested in learning more about this funding opportunity can find information on the MBI website at https://broadband.masstech.org/rfq-community-engagement.
“We encourage interested community-based organizations across the state to help us to connect with people who face digital divides in their daily lives, to help us identify the root causes of those barriers and create programs to help remove them,” said Michael Baldino, MBI director. “We’ve connected with executives and leaders of key groups statewide, but these funds will help us target the grassroots, gaining critical perspective that will inform our statewide broadband and digital equity plans.”
In addition to the planning activities launched at the Summit, the state has launched several programs to address the digital divide and to inform statewide planning, including the creation of a Broadband and Digital Equity Working Group, composed of leaders from across Massachusetts that offer expertise and represent target populations, to guide and advise the planning effort.
“As access to high-speed internet becomes vital to participate in everyday activities, it's important to take the time to think about and discuss how we can intervene to ensure equal access and equitable solutions,” said Virginia Benzan, Director of Racial Justice Advocacy at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and a member of the Broadband and Digital Equity Working Group.
The MBI is also providing direct support for cities and towns in Massachusetts through several targeted programs launched over the last year, including:
- The Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program, a statewide effort to assist municipal decision-making and investments that will increase access, adoption, and usage of the internet, in particular for populations most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In early May, the first 35 municipalities accepted into the program were announced, kicking off the digital equity planning process that will help each city and town analyze and understand the factors of digital access, including internet availability and affordability, access to connected devices, digital skills training, and the needs of their communities.
- In late April, the MBI and the Executive Office of Economic Development announced the first grants from the state’s Digital Equity Partnerships Program to address connectivity challenges statewide. Awardees included Tech Goes Home ($4.5 million); Vinfen, on behalf of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity ($4.3 million); and Baystate Health, on behalf of the Western MA Alliance for Digital Equity ($5.1 million).
- On June 1, the state expanded its support of digital equity to bolster community-level staffing dedicated to connectivity issues through the announcement of $350,000 in state funds for hiring 15 fellows from the national American Connection Corps (ACC). The ACC program will place full-time, year-long fellows to help local host site organizations expand broadband awareness and digital adoption at sites in Boston, Chelsea, Haverhill, Holyoke, Leominster, Lowell, Pittsfield, Quincy, Revere, Springfield, and Taunton. ACC Fellows will support a range of broadband adoption activities, including the implementation of ongoing digital inclusion programs such as digital navigation and digital skill training for economic mobility.
A livestream of the Massachusetts Summit will be made available by the NTIA in the coming weeks.
To learn more about digital equity efforts, and ongoing initiatives such as Massachusetts’ Last Mile infrastructure expansion project, visit the MBI website at https://broadband.masstech.org.
About the National Telecommunications and Information Administration
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is the Executive Branch agency that advises the President on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA’s programs and policymaking focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America, expanding the use of spectrum by all users, advancing public safety communications, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth.
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.
Brian Noyes, Director of Communications and Marketing, MassTech Collborative
noyes (at) masstech.org