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Digital Divide

Federal Pilot Program Awards More than $10 Million in Grants to Connect Minority-Serving Colleges and Universities to High-Speed Internet

The United States Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded a combined $10.6 million in grants to five institutions as part of its Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (CMC). CMC is one of several programs within the Biden-Harris Administration's Internet For All initiative supporting high-speed internet planning, infrastructure and adoption across the country.

The grants will be used to fund internet access and equipment as well as to hire and train information technology personnel for the following projects:

  • Diné College's Connect Navajo project will improve internet access and invest in both hardware and IT staff to improve educational and economic opportunity on the Navajo Nation.
  • Drake State Community and Technical College's Connecting Minority Communities project will provide access to laptops with broadband access, home broadband access for community members and access to student support resources and online courses, to democratize access to postsecondary education and careers in computer science information systems, cybersecurity and cyber defense.
  • Mercy College's Connected, Credentialed and Ready project aims to improve student outcomes by expanding broadband internet access, connectivity and digital inclusion. It will also expand access to technology and build digital skills and IT workforce capacity among students and in surrounding anchor communities.
  • Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology's Student Success and Increasing Minority Workforce Participation Program is working to decrease the digital divide, enhance access to broadband services and increase the talent pipeline for Oklahoma's telecommunications industry.
  • Tohono O'odham Community College's Hewel Wepegi Macidag kc, wog, or "Learning the Internet Road" project, will address the lack of broadband access, connectivity, adoption and equity at the college and in the surrounding anchor communities on Tohono O'odham Nation, with the overarching goal to support economic development through digital workforce development, community connectivity improvement, and computer literacy enhancement.

NTIA received more than 200 applications for the CMC program, which directs a total of $268 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 for expanding high-speed internet access and connectivity to eligible colleges and universities. Forty percent of the funds will be distributed to qualifying HBCUs and 20% to applicants that provide high-speed internet access service and/or eligible equipment to their students. NTIA will announce additional awards on a rolling basis as projects go through its review process.

"America's minority serving college and universities are bedrock learning centers that have too often been left behind when it comes to accessing affordable high-speed internet," said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves, in a statement. "The Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program enables these institutions to be a resource for access, digital skills training, and workforce development programs for students and the community to help level the economic playing field."

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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