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Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County (WDC), a nonprofit dedicated to elevating job quality, economic growth, and prosperity while centering racial equity in Seattle and King County, has announced an effort to utilize Digital Navigators to advance digital equity in preparation for upcoming BEAD-supported programs. Collaborating with various digital equity partners, WDC has also joined forces with Comcast, who has generously donated $60,000, to support the deployment of two Digital Navigators at WorkSource locations. This collaboration signifies a collective commitment to bridging the digital divide, fostering inclusivity, and ensuring that the benefits of technology reach all corners of our community.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program provides $42 billion to expand high-speed internet access across the nation. This expansive initiative is set to allocate funds for planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs in all 50 states. The state of Washington is slated to receive $1.2 billion in BEAD funding.

Digital Navigators are individuals affiliated with trusted community organizations who are trained to help people access the internet, use devices, and build digital skills. According to the findings of a Boston Consulting Group study, they are critical to closing the digital divide and reducing socioeconomic inequalities by helping more people get online.

Employing Digital Navigator Programs ensures BEAD-fund grants make their intended impact and raise digital equity in communities. The contribution made by Comcast makes it possible for Digital Navigators to be available at two WorkSource centers in Seattles Rainier Valley and Auburn, further supporting the successful utilization of BEAD-fund grants.

A recent study showed that individuals who are below 150% of the poverty level are also 30% less likely to have a laptop or tablet, said Marie Kurose, CEO of Workforce Development of Seattle-King County. This underscores the need for greater digital equity in the city and county. Continued regional coordination and alignment in addressing the digital divide is critical as we await the arrival of BEAD funding in Washington.

The Seattle-King County WorkSource system consists of two WorkSource Comprehensive Centers; four WorkSource Affiliate sites, and thirty-nine WorkSource community-based site partners. Combined, the WorkSource partners and WorkSource sites comprise Americas Job Center Network in the region. WorkSource centers play a vital role in communities by offering comprehensive career development and support services, effectively serving as a convenient "one-stop" solution. These centers integrate employment services, skills training, and community support to empower job seekers.

While the staff at these centers provide valuable career counseling services, they can dedicate only some of their time to helping individuals with digital skills. That is where the Digital Navigator Program comes in. The Digital Navigator Program leads collaborative partners in implementing activities to eliminate barriers, providing a path forward in equitable digital inclusion with increased access to services such as Telehealth, Employment, Education and Training.

Digital navigators can offer personalized one-on-one and small group instruction in person and, when possible, in the learners' native languages. Additionally, they provide resource navigation, assisting individuals in accessing other essential resources, such as accessible or affordable internet options and devices. This approach helps bridge the gap in giving much-needed digital skills training to those who require it.

With a $1.2 billion BEAD allocation coming to Washington, there is an exceptional opportunity to do more than just build infrastructure. We aim to actively support job seekers from underserved communities by equipping them with the skills they need to secure quality jobs created by this funding," explained Marisol Tapia Hopper, director of Strategic Partnerships and Funding at the Workforce Development Council. Although the BEAD funding is significant, it alone cannot cover both the essential infrastructure projects and the training programs required in the broadband sector.

We are doing everything we can to advance digital equity in the state and partnerships like this one with WDC do just that, said Carla Carrell, External Affairs senior director for Comcast in Washington. We are true believers in the power of Digital Navigators and helping Workforce Development staff WorkSource locations with them will make a huge difference in addressing the digital divide in King County.

The partnership is part of Project UP a comprehensive $1 billion initiative to advance digital equity nationwide and help build a future of unlimited possibilities. As a part of Project UP, Comcast has launched more than 90 Lift Zones in Washington to assist families with limited or no internet connection in their homes. Lift Zones provide free, robust WiFi hotspots in safe spaces designed to help students and families get online, participate in distance learning, do homework, search for jobs, and access healthcare information and public assistance.

Project UP also includes Internet Essentials, the nation's largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. For more than 10 years, Comcast's Internet Essentials program has connected more people to the internet and the technology they need to participate and excel in an increasingly digital world. Internet Essentials provides affordable home internet for qualifying households ($9.95/mo. for up to 50 Mbps, or $29.95/mo. for up to 100 Mbps) as well as low-cost computers, free WiFi hotspots, and free internet training.

About Workforce Development of Seattle-King County

The Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County (WDC) aspires to lead transformative change that will evolve our regions workforce development efforts into an innovative industry, community, and outcome-drive system with racial equity at its core. As a nonprofit, grant-making organization, the WDC collaborates with a diverse set of partners to elevate job quality, economic growth, and prosperity for adults and youth throughout the Seattle-King County region.

Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is a global media and technology company that connects people to moments that matter. We are principally focused on connectivity, aggregation, and streaming with 57 million customer relationships across the United States and Europe. We deliver broadband, wireless, and video through our Xfinity, Comcast Business, and Sky brands; create, distribute, and stream leading entertainment, sports, and news through Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Universal Studio Group, Sky Studios, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, multiple cable networks, Peacock, NBCUniversal News Group, NBC Sports, Sky News, and Sky Sports; and provide memorable experiences at Universal Parks and Resorts in the United States and Asia. Visit www.comcastcorporation.com for more information.

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Jack Follman

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https://oregon.comcast.com/comcast-rise/

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