Governor Dan McKee announced today the awarding of up to $1.7 million to support communities across Rhode Island increase internet access for low- and moderate-income households, helping to bridge the digital divide.

“Our Administration is committed to boosting internet connection throughout the state,” said Governor Dan McKee. “Today’s awards will help Rhode Islanders better access reliable and affordable high-speed internet and the valuable resources it provides. This funding will complement additional awards and investments that will be made in this area in the near future, and I thank President Biden and our federal delegation for their continued support of this important funding.”

The Governor made the announcement at the Florence Gray Center in Newport.

The awards are funded by Community Development Block Grants (CDDBG) and managed by the state’s Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD). Winners were selected following an RFP process operated through OHCD.

“As the COVID crisis has laid bare, broadband and high-speed internet is not a luxury, but a necessity,” said Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. “Today’s announcement helps expand access across Rhode Island, connecting residents businesses and organizations. We are pleased to take this important first step – one of many planned – to ensure Rhode Islanders have the tools needed to succeed in this digital age.”

The award announcement follows shortly after President Biden signed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law. The plan includes $65 billion for broadband access nationally, with the potential to deliver more than $100 million directly to Rhode Island for this purpose.

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, according to the 2019 US Census’s American Community Survey.

The funded communities and proposed projects are:

City of East Providence (up to $367,000) East Providence, RI

The City of East Providence is seeking to leverage planned municipal infrastructure improvements to provide open access Wi-Fi in targeted Census tracts, largely overlapping with the City’s designated Opportunity Zone. This project will also support digital literacy trainings in partnership with East Providence Housing Authority, the East Providence Library, EBCAP, the Boys and Girls Club, and the senior center as well as device access for households through the East Providence School District.

City of Newport (up to $980,000) Newport, RI

Newport Housing Authority, via the City of Newport, has applied to build a fixed wireless broadband solution to service upwards of 600 residential units in their Park Holm and Chapel Street areas. It would also create added internet capacity at the NHA’s Florence Gray Center, where the Newport Boys and Girls Club is also located. This would enable students to access distance learning, working parents to engage in remote work, and seniors to maintain social connections and leverage telehealth opportunities. The project will support installation and configuration of the equipment and system as well as technical support required to ensure its success. Ongoing access fees plan to be supported by the Newport Housing Authority to ensure free access for all residents in the specified service areas.

City of Providence (Up to $99,000) City of Providence, RI

The City of Providence plans to use funds to purchase and install technology that will expand internet access throughout the City’s 11 community recreation centers as well as the Recreation Department Headquarters. This access is planned to be available both inside the facilities as well as in the nearby vicinity of the centers, allowing for public internet access during good weather or when the centers are closed as well.

Domestic Violence Resource Center (Up to $4,200) Locations in South County, RI

This grant will permit the Domestic Violence Resource Center to increase its Wi-Fi capacity and add a workstation, equipped with a laptop, to the agency’s safe home, serving victims of domestic violence and their families. This project will allow residents better and faster access to the technology necessary for them to seek employment, make appointments, etc.

Forest Farm Assisted Living/Town of Middletown (Up to $20,000) Middletown, RI

This grant will support the build and deployment of a wireless broadband solution throughout the three-floor Forest Farm Assisted Living facility, supporting improved office internet access as well as ubiquitous access for the 49 residential units throughout the building.

Neighborworks Blackstone River Valley (Up to $92,500) Woonsocket, RI

The project will support the build of high-speed (gigabit) fiber-optic internet access to three multi-use renovated industrial buildings in the Millrace District on Woonsocket’s Main Street. The project will support access for 70 affordable live/work units as well as supporting public access for 500 residents in adjacent public spaces and 150 youth in the community learning center within the Millrace District.

North Providence Housing Authority (Up to $21,000) North Providence, RI

North Providence will leverage this grant to provide blanket access to broadband internet to all six of the Authority’s sites throughout the city. Ongoing access costs for internet will be covered through NPHA operating funds.

One Neighborhood Builders (Up to $125,000) Providence, RI

This project will provide improvements to an operating community internet networks in Olneyville, providing a three-time improvement to the latency of the network and create network redundancies that more fluidly funnel internet traffic, improving speeds and reliability for the 2,100 households the network is designed to serve.

Pawtucket Housing Authority (Up to $3,200) Pawtucket, RI

This project will update and improve the Wi-Fi access points for five community rooms across Pawtucket Housing Authority. The project would support installation of two new access points in each of the community rooms, ensuring that residents can access high-speed internet, even if they cannot obtain internet in their homes.

Town of Cumberland (Up to $35,000) Cumberland, RI

The project will expand free Wi-Fi throughout the senior center and its grounds in order to address the “grey divide.” The Town will additionally create a “bank” of ten laptops/Chromebooks for use by seniors while at the center. The system capacity will support in excess of 30 concurrent users; the new laptop/chrome books can support 10 users at any time.

Town of Smithfield (Up to $38,000) Smithfield, RI

The project will permit expanded use of the internet for persons who currently receive essential services at the East Smithfield Neighborhood Center. The improvements will enable high-speed Wi-Fi both in the building as well as outside the facility, with sufficient capacity to allow at least 25 users concurrently. The technology upgrades will allow program participants to have supported telemedicine appointments, reorder prescriptions, and reconnect virtually with family and friends. The grant will also purchase a dozen new laptops/Chromebooks, with four of the devices having adaptive features.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).