Newport Housing Authority secures $ 980,000 for residents’ Internet access

NEWPORT – Tommy Sheehan, president of the Hi-Lo Neighborhood Association, saw children struggling with homework at Donovan Manor and other public housing complexes at the start of the COVID pandemic because they failed had no internet connection.

It was then that he began his crusade to provide internet service to residents of the Donovan Manor high-rise building on Chapel Street and to the low-rise one-story buildings of Chapel Terrace across the city. the street, as well as to other residents of the Newport Housing Authority at developments like Park Holm.

“We want to create a digital bridge for everyone, so that all of our residents are fully on an equal footing,” Sheehan said of the nearly two-year effort.

This vision will now be realized with the allocation of up to $ 980,000 as part of a community development grant announced by Governor Dan McKee at the Florence Gray Center of the Housing Authority on Tuesday morning.

The grant will provide fixed wireless broadband service to approximately 600 residential units, or nearly 1,200 residents. The grant will also add internet capacity to the center, which is used by organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County.

Sheehan, who is also the resident commissioner of the Housing Authority’s board of directors, was at the lectern with the governor and others who worked on the grant application. This included the Executive Director of the Housing Authority, Rhonda Mitchell, and her staff.

“If we are to build sustainable and thriving communities of opportunity, we cannot forget about broadband infrastructure,” Mitchell said. “Unless we have equitable broadband access, our residents would simply be left behind as the labor market and education systems all adjust to a post-pandemic world where we have gone virtual and use tons of technology. “

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CDBG grants are awarded by the state’s Housing and Community Development Office, which selects recipients based on their proposals.

“Our administration is committed to strengthening the Internet connection statewide,” McKee said.

“Expanding broadband access in the North End and across the city was one of the key responses to our US bailout questionnaire,” said Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.

The city sent out a survey asking residents how they would like the city to spend the $ 7.27 million in federal funding it received from the American Rescue Plan Act, but that funding has yet to be allocated.

“This is a turning point for the North End and the residents of the North End,” said Napolitano.

Mayor McKee and State Representative Deb Ruggiero all pointed out that the CDBG funding was the start of a promised new investment in broadband. In the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden, $ 65 billion is spent on broadband access nationwide. Of that amount, a minimum of $ 100 million will be provided directly to Rhode Island for broadband, McKee said.

“Today’s price is a great start for people who don’t have an internet connection, but it’s not where it will take us for the next 20 years,” said Ruggiero.

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The state representative, whose district covers Jamestown and Middletown, has been at the forefront of the effort to provide households and businesses with direct access to fiberglass broadband cable that will provide a High speed upload and download without the buffering of standard and wireless coaxial cable.

In Rhode Island, 49,573 families, or 12.2% of households, are not connected to the Internet and 34,936 other families, or 8.6% of households, have access only through a smartphone or a subscription plan. data limited. That means nearly a quarter of Rhode Islanders are under-connected, according to the American Community Survey of the 2019 U.S. Census, McKee said.

“As the COVID crisis has been laid bare, broadband and broadband internet is not a luxury but a necessity,” McKee said. “We learned that.”

CDBG awards for extended connectivity across the state in 10 communities totaled up to $ 1.7 million, so Newport received the lion’s share of the funding. Other awards included $ 20,000 for the deployment of a wireless broadband solution across the three-story complex of Forest Farm Assisted Living in Middletown, providing access to the building’s 49 living units. The City of Middletown shared this award to provide better office access. It was the only other award in Newport County.

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An additional investment of the $ 1.1 billion in funding the state received from the US bailout will continue to bring the economy back to pre-pandemic levels and beyond, McKee said.

“When we accumulate these dollars… we’re going to make sure that Rhode Island maximizes this unique opportunity,” he said.

The state is currently the nation’s second among the 50 states in terms of economic recovery, McKee said.

“We have been in the front line of states for several months to come out of COVID, but there are still individuals and small businesses struggling because there have been disproportionate impacts from this crisis,” the secretary said. of State for Commerce Stefan Pryor.

The state is making investments “to propel us out of this downturn and into the next decade,” he said. Investments in infrastructure such as broadband and wireless access are “the key to our continued economic recovery and long-term economic resurgence.”

“The information economy requires you to be connected via the Internet,” Pryor concluded.

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