February 12, 2024–In a bid to improve digital literacy among low-income residents, Cambridge, Massachusetts announced the launch of the Digital Navigator Pilot Program, an effort to connect low-income residents with affordable internet services, according to reports.
The DNP will employ “digital navigators," tasked with assisting residents enroll in economical internet connection services.
The digital navigators will also help program participants with assembling computers in their homes and helping them acquire low-cost computers if they do not already possess one. The program will place the digital navigators in accessible locations such as the city library and local public schools, per the report.
The city’s research finds that roughly 40 percent of Cambridge residents lack the digital literacy skills to use the internet for, “banking, contacting medical support, or purchasing groceries,” according to a statement released by the city of Cambridge.
Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang hopes that the program will help mitigate the digital knowledge gap within the city.
“The Digital Navigator Pilot Program represents a significant step forward in bridging the digital divide and ensuring that all residents have equitable access in an increasingly online world,” Huang said in a statement, “We are grateful to work with our local and regional partners, who share aligned missions and goals to best support our residents.”
The program will receive funding from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and the American Rescue Plan Act, according to the statement. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute is an initiative that built the MassBroadband 123 network, which connects more than 120 communities in the state.
The DNP might be imperiled by the looming expiration of the Affordable Connectivity Program. The ACP helped subsidize broadband costs for low-income families. Saul Tannenbaum, leader of Upgrade Cambridge, a group that advocates for the creation of a city-wide broadband network, argues that the program is necessary to give low-income families equitable access to high-speed internet.
“The access component — getting people on to the internet — depends on federal funding that’s about to expire,” Tannenbaum told The Crimson newspaper.
Last year, the city released a report on the possibility of unrolling a city-wide broadband connectivity program. The report concluded that the city would need to invest at least $150 million to make the program come to fruition.