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Millions approved for digital equity in Delaware. This is how you get involved

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Delaware's attempt to become the first state to be fully connected to the Internet was a major step forward recently.

Delaware is the second state in the country to have its digital equity plan approved by the federal government. This gives the state about $12 million for projects to expand digital equity programs and essentially gives the state a green light on its way to an additional $112 million for similar projects.

There is still time to ensure you are included in the next phase of the plan, which aims to ensure every home in Delaware has access to high-speed internet.

Here's what you should know.

What is the Digital Equity Plan?

The Delaware Broadband Office received approximately $500,000 from the federal government to develop the Digital Equity Plan, which was approved for additional funding on February 29.

In recent months, Delaware Broadband Office officials have held public meetings and roundtable discussions about what a fully connected Delaware should look like.

The 187-page plan outlines the state's vision for providing high-speed internet and device access to underrepresented communities, particularly older adults and those with low incomes or disabilities.

The development of the plan followed a nationwide research effort that pointed to some overarching issues that Delaware must address. According to Roddy Flynn, director of the Delaware Broadband Office, one issue in particular stood out.

“The biggest issue we’ve seen in digital justice is device access,” Flynn said. “For people who really want to further their education or do digital distance learning, access to devices is absolutely the most important thing we've heard about.”

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In addition to securing device access, low-income households and older adults in Delaware also struggle to access technical support services and acquire digital skills.

Another pillar of the plan is raising awareness of the availability of technology jobs for high school students who are not pursuing a four-year degree.

Flynn said the office will receive about $12 million over the next five years to address some of the issues outlined in the plan. While not enough to completely solve all problems, Flynn hopes to raise general awareness of some of the programs available and create connections between communities in Delaware that have historically had problems receiving digital assistance.

Funds received from the Broadband Office will be distributed to local organizations with the goal of achieving some of the goals set forth in the plan through a competitive grant process.

Some of the organizations that could receive the funds include library programs that lend devices and host learning sessions, as well as groups that provide digital services to deaf communities and veterans groups.

Next steps and how you can get involved

The Broadband Office is currently considering an additional $107 million from the federal government's Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program to provide internet infrastructure in areas where high-speed internet is scarce.

The proposal is currently going through the “challenge process,” in which the office essentially identifies which areas across the state need internet infrastructure.

Affordability is one of the key issues addressed in Delaware's BEAD proposal. The original proposal (which still needs to be approved by the federal government) states that Delaware's Broadband Office would set a low price that in-service providers would have to meet in order to gain access to a portion of the $107 million.

If everything goes smoothly, Flynn estimates that teams could be out and about fixing some infrastructure issues by the summer of 2025.

According to the Delaware Broadband Office, nearly 100% of addresses without access to high-speed internet have been identified, but there may still be some isolated households that need coverage.

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The Delaware Broadband Strategy includes a virtual map of areas to be addressed with federal funding. You can also check online to see if your address is included in the plan.

The window to enter your address into the Broadband Office map is Monday April 22nd. To register, households can call the office at 302-739-9701, email [email protected] or register online.

Molly McVety covers community and environmental issues around Delaware. Contact them at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @mollymcvety.