Wu announces $5 million in new grant funding

Special to the Gazette

     Mayor Michelle Wu announced that the City of Boston has been awarded three grants totaling over $5 million from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to boost digital equity efforts within the City. This funding will will help ensure that residents within Boston Housing Authority (BHA) properties have access to affordable and dependable internet connectivity and will also be used to support ongoing efforts to enroll Boston residents in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), strengthen telehealth programs in Boston, and establish workforce development programs through refurbishing distributed devices. 

     “Today, nearly every aspect of daily life, from work meetings and classes to healthcare and government services, relies on access to the Internet,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I’m grateful to announce that Boston has been awarded over $5 million in grant funding that will help us expand initiatives to ensure that all Bostonians have access to the technology, training, and equipment they need to thrive.”

     “This critical funding will allow the City to support the Boston Housing Authority, and community organizations to connect our residents with telehealth, access to jobs and learning resources, and to be able to talk to friends and loved ones,” said Santi Garces, Chief Information Officer. “We’re incredibly grateful to the state and federal partners that have provided these grants to make sure every Bostonians is connected.”  

     At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 32,000 Boston households did not have broadband access. Through the City’s efforts, that number has been reduced to approximately 14,000 households. The pandemic reinforced the importance of high speed internet, necessary for conferencing systems and other bandwidth intensive services (currently measured on a federal level as 25 megabits for download and 3 megabits for upload). This digital divide reinforces inequalities across Boston as access to broadband is critical for residents to study or work remotely, access telehealth and government services, and stay connected with their communities.

     The funding includes two MBI grants through the state’s Executive Office of Economic Development totaling over $5 million, including $4.55 million from the Digital Equity Partnerships Program and $450,000 in support through the Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program. The MBI Planning grant will fund a survey that will inform a citywide Digital Equity Plan, and includes establishing internet wiring standards for affordable housing. The MBI Partnership grant will invest over $1 million for BHA’s onsite Digital Literacy Programming and over $684,000 to expand the City’s Wicked Free public WiFi network. The third grant from the FCC totals $250,000 for the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program. The “B-Online Initiative” will fund ongoing community outreach to enroll residents in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). 

     “We congratulate Mayor Wu and the City of Boston on these critical awards, which are a testament to the work the city has done to ensure residents not only have access to affordable high-speed internet, but also the tools and training needed to access online resources,” said Massachusetts Executive Office of Economic Development Undersecretary of Economic Foundations Ashley Stolba. “On behalf of the Healey-Driscoll Administration, we are honored to support these important projects and to see how they expand opportunities for residents across Boston.” 

     “MBI’s digital equity programs are investing federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across the Commonwealth by increasing access to affordable and reliable broadband service, internet-connected devices, and digital literacy training,” said Michael Baldino, Director of the Mass. Broadband Institute at MassTech (MBI). “Congratulations to the City of Boston on this important award, which will help us ensure that vulnerable Bostonians have access to the digital tools and resources that are so critical to our ability to succeed and thrive in the 21st Century.” 

     The ACP is a federal program providing $14.2 billion to expand broadband affordability. ACP provides eligible households with a subsidy for broadband service ($30/month) and up to $100 in a one-time discount for a digital device. The program was funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Acts (IIJA) in 2021, with the strong support of Senator Ed Markey. Nearly 45,000 Boston households have signed up for broadband service and devices through ACP, including nearly 20,000 that have been enrolled since May 2022 through close partnership with service providers and community organizations.

     These grants will empower the City to make investments totaling $2.44 million in community organizations across Boston neighborhoods through the next round of the City’s Digital Equity Fund, which is launching on October 2, 2023. The City’s Digital Equity Fund began in 2018 with an award of $35,000 to a community-based organization (CBO). In 2019, the fund expanded to $100,000 which was distributed to three CBOs. In the last iteration of the fund, just under $500,000 was distributed to 19 organizations. 

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