Appalachia Digital Accelerator

Frequently asked questions

What is a Digital Equity Connectivity Plan and why do I need one?

A Digital Equity Connectivity Plan is a holistic plan of action to achieve your digital equity goals. Connect Humanity’s planning grants support un(der)served communities to create these plans.

The grant will support your community to undergo an assessment of residents’ digital needs and your existing assets, and from there you will build a detailed plan to build the solutions you need to improve broadband in your community.

This Digital Equity Connectivity Plan will equip your community to pursue and secure further funding needed to build the network infrastructure and implement your plan. This follow-on investment may come from local and federal government programs like the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program (BEAD), impact investors like Connect Humanity, or other private investment opportunities.

We’re already working with our state broadband office / already have a broadband plan. Is this program duplicative?

This program is designed to meet communities where they are. We will build on the work that has already been done and focus on addressing remaining gaps so you can move towards financing and building broadband solutions that meet the needs of your residents.

This will look different for every community. We’ve supported communities that had some survey work and a technical design, but needed help with financial modeling and business planning. We’ve also supported others that had a strong plan, but hadn’t yet done meaningful community engagement to build local support.

Whatever stage you’re at on your digital journey, we will work with you to understand what you need and how we can support you — whether that’s the creation of a digital equity connectivity plan from scratch, or finessing your network operating model and helping you to secure financing.

Do I need to be a company or a local government to apply?

Successful applicants are embedded in the community they seek to serve, have community support for their broadband plans, and have partnerships with other local entities. Connect Humanity does not restrict the type of entity that can apply. You may be a utility cooperative, a municipality, a non-profit, or a community-centered enterprise. We are looking for innovative ways to engage a range of mission-aligned partners, and seek to invest in the growth of community-centered connectivity providers.  

Will I be involved in implementing the project?

Yes! Digital Equity Connectivity Planning Grants center the community’s needs, and so grantees will be actively involved in the process. The Community Vision is a core element of these plans, where community members will articulate their hopes and vision for broadband connectivity and the economic, cultural, and social impact this will have on their lives.

Community champions will lead on elements including: 

  • Data collection and validation (e.g. running surveys, verifying maps, desk research)   
  • Convening community members and ensuring wide representation
  • Identifying local partners to that can build network connectivity and digital skills
  • Regularly collaborating with Connect Humanity staff and external consultants
  • Collaborating with grant writers to apply for funding, where needed

To support communities for their time and effort in the planning process, the grant may include an additional payment of up to $30,000, depending on the depth and complexity of the work needed. 

How much of my time will be needed to make this project successful?

Connect Humanity works with a range of communities at different stages in their planning process. The amount of time and effort needed will depend on where you are in your planning process, and how much data is readily available. 

Once grantees are identified and the paperwork is signed, we expect the planning process to take about 6 months. Much of the grantee and community involvement will be early in the project during the data collection and validation periods, and toward the end when the narratives are being refined and grant writing is taking place.

Does the applicant need to have the technical expertise to implement the infrastructure plan?

Your plan will include technical information. We assume that some applicants will have this knowledge and others won’t. We will work with a broad team to get you the resources you need, including technical expertise.

How much money will we receive?

Planning grants are a partnership effort between the community, the connectivity provider, external consultants, and Connect Humanity. The resulting Digital Equity Connectivity Plans are meant to support a community to pursue further funding for their networks and digital skills. For communities that have not completed much or any planning, more resources will be needed.

The full scope of our planning grants range from $10,000 to $120,000+. This is dependent on the needs of the community. For example, while some communities have allocated public funding to support this work, others will need support for the full planning process.

What are appropriate ways to match the $20k required from program awardees?

Match can be pledged as “in-kind”or non-cash donations — or, rather, the value of non-cash donations. These can be in the form of real property (including land and buildings), equipment, supplies, services, training, or other expendable property.

Examples of in-kind donations include, but are not limited to:

  • Personnel time given to the project
  • Person on loan from another organization/corporation
  • Donation of or use of equipment, like use of a crane or bulldozer
  • Value of a lease for project space

Match can also be cash. Cash match is often drawn from grantees’ own funds or cash donations from non-federal third parties, such as partner organizations. A cash match contribution is an actual cash contribution. Loans are also counted as cash. 

Connect Humanity expects most candidates will make up their 20k commitment in-kind. In some circumstances and subject to approval, Connect Humanity may consider dollar contributions or consultant costs towards the 20k.

Why are applicants required to make a $20k match?

Our program is enabled by our partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has a legal requirement to cost share with match funding. If you might need additional support or have questions on the type of support that qualifies, please let us know in your application or contact us at

Will the grant support hiring in our community?

The grant is meant to support  the community for their efforts. Funds may contribute towards the salary of local people who work on the project. In addition, the project coordinators that work with participating communities will be — as far as possible — selected from the region in which their projects are based.

In the longer term, the broadband solutions enabled by these grants will bring new jobs and workforce development opportunities to local communities. This will include everything from the engineers required to build and maintain networks and the digital navigators needed to help residents get online, to the jobs created as a result of the new businesses catalyzed by fast, affordable internet access.

Who are community partners that I could engage with in this process?

There is not a one-size-fits-all-approach to asset mapping and choosing community partners. Potential allies in your community will depend on your local and unique case but might include: libraries, community agencies, schools, local leaders, city councils, governors, judges, churches, banks, and hospitals — to name a few. You might find useful allies after mapping the most important and motivating drivers for people to connect to the internet.

Will this program support communities outside of the United States?

Currently this program is focused on supporting low-income, rural, and communities of color to build and operate their own infrastructure in the Appalachia States listed below. Connect Humanity also has other programs working beyond Appalachia. We are looking to expand our geographic footprint later this year and next year. 

Appalachia States supported: parts of Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and all of West Virginia.

We work across multiple counties. Can we still participate?

Yes. Whether you’re interested in improving access to broadband in a specific community or in communities across multiple counties, we want to hear from you. The key thing is that you have a clear idea of the geography that you want to connect. In the project design, we will just need to make sure there’s clarity on roles and responsibilities and that we have support and engagement with the right stakeholders across communities to set your project up for success.

If we are not in a distressed county, might funding still be available?

Yes. Our program strives to support communities in distressed counties, as well as those in at-risk and transitional counties, as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

My community isn’t eligible for BEAD funding, should we still apply?

Yes! Digital Equity Connectivity Plans will prepare all communities to build better broadband and ensure that any future funding is spent well to build reliable, affordable, high speed broadband infrastructure.

If your community is not eligible for a given federal funding program, or where this funding won’t be enough, Connect Humanity may be able to offer finance packages to implement your plan, tailored to meet your needs. A Digital Equity Connectivity Plan prepares you to secure funding from various sources, including government, impact investment, and traditional capital.

We encourage applications from all low-income communities and communities of color that are seeking to expand broadband connectivity.

I want to improve internet access in my community, but I don’t know where to start. Can you help?

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) recently announced two initiatives to support communities to learn more about their connectivity options. We also encourage you to check out the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) website for resources, and to reach out to your local NDIA chapter to find out about resources to get started on your digital equity journey.

Appalachia Digital Accelerator

To find out more about this program and apply, visit the Appalachia Digital Accelerator Grants page.

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