macbook EAST ST. LOUIS – To expand digital access in the Metro East, State Senator Christopher Belt (D-Swansea) is urging local organizations to apply for the second round of state broadband grant funding.

“People rely on the internet. As the pandemic forced many people to work from home and participate in school remotely, access to the internet became a necessity,” Belt said. “I want to spread the word that applications are open for organizations to apply for broadband funding as we work to eliminate the digital divide.”

The Office of Broadband Regional Engagement for Adoption + Digital Equity (READY) program is designed to increase access, adoption and use of high-speed internet access through the lens of digital equity and inclusion. To further these efforts across all ten economic development regions of the state, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Broadband is launching the next READY notice of funding opportunity, with another $250,000 available for grants.

The Broadband READY program is part of a comprehensive Digital Equity Package to boost broadband capacity while addressing existing broadband equity gaps. The READY program and other investments to enhance community planning and equitable implementation will complement the Connect Illinois program, a $400 million plan to deliver universal access to high-speed internet statewide.

Funding can be used to expand immediate broadband connectivity, conduct outreach and engagement to identify current digital inequities and establish next steps forward. Its aim is to create a digital inclusion ecosystem through regional collaboration among institutions of higher education, planning councils, community and economic development organizations, schools, libraries, health care and local leaders and other related stakeholders.

“In today’s world, the internet is our gateway to everything,” Belt said. “Bridging the gap to ensure people have reliable internet is essential.”

The application deadline for the second round of READY grants is Oct. 4, 2021. Visit the Illinois Office of Broadband website for information on eligibility criteria or application assistance.

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