Teamwork

Maine has become the first state to have its digital equity plan accepted by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The Digital Equity Act has a budget of $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital equity and inclusion.

Using $542,222 from one of those three programs — the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program —  Maine developed a plan designed to address disparities in digital access, skills and affordability across the Granite state.

Maine’s Digital Equity Plan

“Main’s digital equity plan will help break down barriers to being connected, ensuring that every person in the state can take full advantage of the opportunities that the internet can provide,” said Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, in a prepared statement.

 “We’re proud that our work and the significant effort of our digital equity partners has been recognized and that we can begin to put our plans into motion. While expanding infrastructure is important, it’s only part of the solution. To make sure everyone is truly connected, service must be affordable, and Maine people must have the confidence and tools to connect.

“Maine has an incredible, historic opportunity and the plan to to make the most of this opportunity, particularly for people who have faced significant barriers to getting connected.”

Key elements of the plan include:

1. Improve access to broadband through grant funding for local and regional infrastructure projects;
2. Sustain and grow Maine’s investment in digital equity by establishing the Maine Digital Equity Fund, which will raise $15 million in philanthropic support and be matched by additional investment from the federal government.
3. Increase affordability of internet service, including increasing enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program, and expanding access to free or low-cost connectivity in affordable housing units;
4. Secure at least 25,000 donated devices for refurbishment from businesses, institutions, and agencies statewide;
5. Ensure access to affordable devices (desktops, laptops, tablets) and technical support by distributing 50,000 new and refurbished devices to Mainers who need them;
6. Improve Mainers’ digital skills through outreach and training;
7. Help Mainers stay safe online by providing internet safety training; and
8. Make it easier to access government resources and programs online

Three Digital Equity Programs

The Digital Equity Act provides funding for $60 million for state digital equity planning grants, $1.44 billion for a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and $1.25 billion for a Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

All states received their digital equity planning grants before year-end 2022. The states have been working on their plans to ensure that “covered” populations will be able to benefit from “Internet for All” initiatives.

The Digital Equity program aims to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy.

States are continuing to submit their plans for NTIA’s acceptance and NTIA will accept plans on a rolling basis. In the coming months, NTIA will launch the $1.44 billion Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, according to an NTIA press release.

Joan Engebretson contributed to this report

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