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Appalachia Digital Accelerator Project

Target communities are the counties of: Barbour; Boone; Braxton; Calhoun; Clay; Fayette; Gilmer; Lincoln; Logan; McDowell; Mingo; Nicholas; Roane; Summers; Webster; Wetzel; Wirt; Wyoming. These 18 counties were all classed as distressed counties by the Appalachian Regional Commission in 2023.

 

About this Project

Generation West Virginia and Regional Optical Communications are leading work in 18 counties to improve access to affordable internet through Connect Humanity’s Appalachia Digital Accelerator project.

Over the past three years, GWV has focused on planning and supporting communities to access funds to build broadband infrastructure.  With this foundational piece in motion and BEAD deployment funds expected fall 2024,  we are taking this opportunity from Connect Humanity to look beyond internet infrastructure to other barriers, such as affordability and digital skills, that must be overcome so West Virginians have meaningful connectivity and all that it enables. 

Through August 31, 2024, this project will support local partners in 18 counties to leverage existing planning work, fill the gaps, and secure the partnerships and funding they need to meet their communities digital inclusion goals. 

 
 

How to Get Involved

Each of the 18 counties have two ways for stakeholders to get engaged: by joining their county steering committee, or through attending workshops.

County Steering Committee: The County Steering Committees will help guide the planning process for each county’s community workshop. These team members will help build out the invite list and guide the initial report structure in preparation for the workshop. These are smaller teams, likely made up of those most engaged and interested in guiding the process. 

If you’d like to learn more about the Steering Committees, you can check out the Steering Committee Kickoff Meeting Recording – Nov 23 and the December Steering Committee Meeting Slides.

Community Workshops: Each county will have a Community Workshop where the project research team will share compiled assets and data, and work with community members to identify existing asset gaps, set community goals, and start identifying potential digital equity projects.

Community Workshops are expected to take place February – April 2024. If you’re interested in participating in this project, please reach out to GWV’s Broadband Program Director, Annie Stroud, at [email protected].

FAQ:

How to ensure the population, especially vulnerable populations, can access and fully participate in the digital economy.    This is recognizing that some populations have significant barriers to accessing this resource, and working to identify projects, activities and resources that will help close the digital divide.  For more information about Digital Equity/Digital Inclusion, check out the NDIA Digital Equity 101 Resource Page!

No! In West Virginia, thanks to the hard work by the State Office of Broadband and the ROC study, we are not looking at developing Infrastructure deployment projects with Connect Humanity.   While there is still a large need for deployment, this project is focused on the next steps.  What are our plans for ensuring our communities can access this infrastructure once its built?

Yes! The state put in hard work and developed a statewide framework and goals for digital equity.  This project is focused on helping local communities take the State Digital Equity plan and goals and come up with localized strategies and projects so that they will be positioned to take advantage of DEA grants, and other Digital Equity focused funding opportunities.  Communities can look to the State identified goals (1:Realize Affordable Connectivity, 2: Secure Device access and Affordability, and 3: Elevate digital skills and Accessibility to Public Service and Economic Opportunity) and think about how to build off of them to come up with a local project that make sense.

We have several ways for local residents, organizations, and other stakeholders to participate! 

  1.  First, is to be a part of the County Steering Committee. This group meets monthly to help build out the stakeholder list, direct plan data collection efforts, and help plan the Community Workshop.    
  2. We understand that not everyone with important information to share can commit to a Committee, so if you are unable to participate in that way, please plan on participating in the Community Workshops to be scheduled Spring of 2024.  These will be hosted in your county and will be a chance to learn more about digital equity/inclusion, and an opportunity to shape your community’s next steps towards digital inclusion
  3. Participate in educational events, Connect Humanity is hosting public webinars almost weekly, we also have an opportunity to come up with some topics that West Virginia communities would like to learn more about and have them schedule something with us specifically.  If you have any questions or ideas please let us know! 

Yes absolutely!  Many in the industry are the most acutely aware of the need for Digital Equity, Literacy and Inclusion efforts.  If you are already working on these efforts please be in touch so we can make sure your local County Steering Committees are aware!  Each county will also be hosting a community workshop to identify existing partnerships and opportunities, and come up with some specific strategies and resources that could help those projects expand and/or get started.

Target communities are the FY2023 ARC Distressed counties of: Barbour; Boone; Braxton; Calhoun; Clay; Fayette; Gilmer; Lincoln; Logan; McDowell; Mingo; Nicholas; Roane; Summers; Webster; Wetzel; Wirt; Wyoming.   If you live in one of these counties and would like to be involved please be in touch! [email protected] or your local RPDC!

If you are outside of the main project counties but are interested in community connectivity planning around digital equity please be in touch!  We may be able to assist through a variety of ways.  There are also many resources being made available by host organization Connect Humanity at their website here: https://connecthumanity.fund/appalachia-digital-accelerator-events-webinars/

Connect Humanity is the grant awardee, this project is not the only thing their organization does. For more information about Connect Humanity please visit www.connecthumanity.fund. This project is part of their ARC ARISE award that is focused on developing local connectivity plans across the region. West Virginia had a different landscape thanks to the work of the partners and so we are using a different model to implement the project here. Connect Humanity is supporting the local project teams and is also hosting a wealth of educational webinars and learning opportunities throughout the coming year. For more information about upcoming webinars and resources please visit https://connecthumanity.fund/appalachia-digital-accelerator-events-webinars/

The connectivity plans are designed to provide the local community (and a grant writer) with all the supporting documentation and information needed to apply for state and federal funding for digital inclusion efforts.  The partnerships, strategies and projects the community identifies will be outlined in this plan in order to access the current funding opportunities. Additionally, these plans will provide a local baseline and goals for the future.  They are not intended to be static. As more households and businesses are connected, additional challenges will undoubtedly appear and new strategies will be needed to ensure equitable connectivity for our whole community.