State grants fund digital navigation services to help new internet users get online
Washington State Broadband Office awards $14.5 million to provide one-on-one technical support, devices, and subscriptions to facilitate internet use and adoption
OLYMPIA, WA — Most of us take the internet for granted, yet nearly 240,000 Washington households do not have access to high-speed internet, and 4% do not have access to a computing device. This week the Washington State Department of Commerce announced $14.5 million in grants to continue expanding access to the internet through digital navigator services.
Digital navigator services are essential in helping new internet users get online. These grants, awarded to three organizations, will provide resources to support individuals seeking work, families with students, English language learners, Medicaid clients, people experiencing poverty and seniors.
“Being able to use the internet is a necessity, not a luxury,” said Commerce Director Mike Fong. “Support for digital navigators is a successful strategy – these programs open equal opportunities for people to thrive, especially community members who may be struggling to reach their full potential.”
Digital navigator services funded by these grants will include a hotline where community members can receive or schedule an appointment with a digital navigator, the distribution of internet-capable devices, and digital skills training. These projects are in partnership with various community-based organizations, such as regional libraries, healthcare providers, and both multicultural and education-focused nonprofits. The projects awarded funding will offer statewide and regional digital navigator services over the state fiscal year July 1, 2023 – June 30, 2024.
- Equity in Education Coalition – $10,223,042 million
Equity in Education partners with 39 community organizations led by multilingual and multicultural staff who have a track record of providing cultural and linguistically appropriate curriculum and digital skills training in communities of color. The Connect Washington Coalition and its members will provide community-embedded digital literacy skills and offer skills training and a multilingual call-in center to provide technology support services. Funding will also support creation of a Digital Navigation Resource app available to all Washington residents, and support the distribution of internet-capable devices, smart phones, headsets and supporting equipment.
- Community Health Network of Washington – $3,846,000 million
Community Health Network of Washington will partner with community and neighborhood health clinics and centers to provide digital navigation support. Services will be delivered through CHNW’s network of 21 nonprofit Community Health Centers, which provide care to over 1 million patients statewide regardless of their ability to pay. Services will include using Link to Care WA, a support and referral hotline that is available in English and Spanish, hosting web-based digital literacy skills training, and distributing devices to patients in need.
- Nisqually Indian Tribe – $430,958
The Nisqually Tribal Council’s consortium will collaborate with the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, Timberland Regional Library, the Thurston Economic Development Council, and Thurston Thrives to ensure all individuals have access to digital navigation services for individuals and business, a variety of digital skills classes, devices, Wi-Fi connectivity and discounted or free internet services.
“We are proud of the work that we’ve been doing and we are grateful to the Department of Commerce and the state legislature for their full faith and recognition of the work we’ve been doing since 2020. Access to the internet and hardware are basic human rights, just like access to education, water, and housing. We look forward to partnering with Commerce to ensure that all Washingtonians have what they need to thrive in a connected Washington,” said Equity in Education Co-Founder/Executive Director, Sharonne Navas.
“Eliminating technological barriers to health care by putting phones in people’s hands, connecting them to the internet, and equipping patients to navigate technology, improves people’s health and access to employment, education, and other essential social supports,” said Leanne Berge, CEO at CHNW and CHPW. “This funding from the Department of Commerce will help us promote the Link to Care WA Hotline and provide digital navigation services to more people across the state, through community health centers, other healthcare providers, and community-based organizations. As a result, we’ll improve people’s comfort and confidence in using their phone and online tools to manage their health care, including making appointments, managing prescriptions, and connecting with their care providers.”
“The Nisqually Tribe is excited to be able to add digital navigation instruction to the community with this award from the state Department of Commerce,” said Willie Frank III, chairman of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. “This will allow us to add critical education to tribal and non-tribal members that will focus on introductory technology help, educational apps and skill training with devices that access the internet, such as smart phones, personal commuters, e-readers and more. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to expand the services we can offer as part of our internet infrastructure work.”
Commerce received 26 applications requesting more than $115 million, underscoring the need to connect more residents to the internet and to provide them with the skills needed to participate fully in our digitally connected society.
“We’re confident that the three organizations that have been awarded these grants will serve as a force multiplier in providing access to a suite of digital navigation services across our state through diverse community-based partnerships,” said Commerce Digital Equity Managing Director Lisa Heaton.
“The digital world requires the ability to constantly adapt to change,” said Broadband Office Director Mark Vasconi. “To maximize the impact of the limited funds available this biennium, we used a consortium model to leverage the experience of organizations that can work with at least three separate entities to provide statewide or regional services to residents through long-term, sustainable strategies.”
This is the third year of Commerce Digital Navigator Program grants and the first funding cycle of the 2023-25 biennium. In its short history, the Digital Navigator Program has supported more than 213,000 Washington residents to access digital navigation services, devices, skills or subscriptions.
To learn more about Commerce’s Internet for All in Washington initiative, visit https://www.commerce.wa.gov/building-infrastructure/washington-statewide-broadband-act/internet-for-all-wa/.