“Digital Partnerships Program” and “Greater Lowell Digital Equity Plan” to bridge the digital divide

LOWELL — The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), awarded over $4.3 million in grants to advance digital equity in Greater Lowell and the wider Merrimack Valley. Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. The initiative funded by these grants seeks to directly address these inequities in three key areas: infrastructure for reliable internet connections, device access and use, and education and digital literacy.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell) received $4.0 million as part of the Digital Partnerships Program to provide a range of services in the Merrimack Valley, including training in computer and internet usage, device refurbishment and distribution, neighborhood-scale broadband connectivity targeted toward affordable housing.
In addition, a coalition of nine municipalities led by the City of Lowell received technical assistance funding valued at over $300,000 to develop the Greater Lowell Digital Equity Plan. This assistance will be provided by the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments (NMCOG) and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). It will build upon UMass Lowell’s work, identifying areas where that work could be expanded, as well as policy changes and initiatives that municipalities could undertake to reduce the digital divide.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed critical gaps in high-speed access and digital literacy throughout our region, especially for people who make lower incomes and older adults” said Jennifer Raitt, NMCOG Executive Director. “Our work and partnership with UMass Lowell will ensure we take the right steps to connect our communities to high-speed internet to allow full personal, civic, and economic participation safely and securely.”
The Greater Lowell Digital Equity Plan will be designed, facilitated, and developed by staff at NMCOG and MAPC through months of research and outreach. Public engagement will consist of a region-wide survey, municipal interviews, and focus groups. MAPC is providing technical expertise and quantitative data analysis drawing from prior experience supporting digital equity planning in other communities, including in the cities of Chelsea, Everett, Revere, Somerville, and Quincy. This project is expected to be completed by early next year, after which the team will assist each municipality in pursuing strategies developed by the plan, including pursuing “implementation funds” that MBI hopes to make available to communities who have engaged in digital equity planning work.
Visit nmcog.org/digitalequity to learn more about the Greater Lowell Digital Equity Plan; sign up for the digital equity mailing list to learn about future engagement opportunities. For more information regarding the Digital Equity Plan, contact Isabel Emmet, Regional Land Use Planner II, at iemmet@nmcog.org or 978-454-8021 x117.