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Providence, RI – RIHousing today announced the availability of funding to support innovative and long-term sustainable projects to increase internet access for low- and moderate-income households across the state. The new program provides financial resources to eligible organizations and municipalities in support of initiatives to bridge the digital divide.
“High-speed internet is increasingly considered a basic necessity for employment, education, and day-to-day tasks, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote work and school,” said Carol Ventura, Executive Director of RIHousing. “However, many low- and moderate-income households cannot access high-speed internet at home, resulting in barriers to their ability to access critical resources and information.”
One important aspect of the “digital divide” centers around access to high-speed internet, also known as broadband. Broadband is provided by a series of technologies that give users the ability to send and receive data at volumes and speed that support applications such as telemedicine, distance learning, remote work, public safety and civic engagement. Disparities in broadband access can have adverse economic and social consequences on those left behind.
“Imagine a highway that leads to jobs, to education, to political participation, to information about the country and the world,” said Nicolas P. Retsinas, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners at RIHousing. “You need the internet to travel that highway. Today, a ‘digital divide’ bars a swathe of us from that road.”
In Rhode Island, 49,573 families or 12.2% of households, are not connected to the Internet and another 34,936 families or 8.6% only have access via a smartphone and data plan, making nearly a quarter of Rhode Islanders under-connected (2019 American Community Survey).
While there are a number of initiatives to help bridge the digital divide, there are still gaps in access to high-speed internet. In response, RIHousing has created the Digital Divide Fund and is seeking proposals that will provide low-and-moderate income Rhode Island residents with long-term, high-speed access to the internet. Partnerships, pilot projects, ‘out-of-the-box thinking’ and replication of successful projects from across the country are strongly encouraged.
“In today’s increasingly technological and connected world, too many people are being left behind when it comes to internet access,” said James Comer, Deputy Director, RIHousing. “The internet is now a necessity for all, from school-age kids needing to do their homework, to adults looking to gain employment. This new funding will help close the digital divide for Rhode Islanders, further reducing barriers to learning, quality of life and future success.”
The program represents RIHousing’s commitment to helping Rhode Islanders and complements existing initiatives from cable providers, the state and non-profit community to provide tablets and hot spots and improve internet use and digital literacy.
A total of $250,000 is available in funding, with a maximum award amount of $75,000 per grant. The grant term is for one year and non-profit and for-profit organizations, public housing authorities, municipalities, faith-based organizations and community housing development organizations are eligible to apply. Applications will be evaluated on the proposed population served, need in the community, program sustainability, partnerships, organizational capacity, and program innovation, as well as several other key metrics.
Complete information on the program and how agencies and municipalities can apply, can be found online at: www.rihousing.com/rfps-rfqs. The deadline for submissions is Friday, March 12, 2021 at 3:00 pm EST.