Local company awarded digital navigator grant


November 17, 2022

Skamokawa resident Steve Carson seems to have a knack for getting things done.

First he needed better internet service, and he ended up providing it for his neighbors and an even wider community.

Now he’s applied for and been awarded a grant that will continue to help his community.

“Back in August I saw a request for proposal from the Department of Commerce and the State Broadband Office, looking for organizations to provide digital navigator services, a digital navigator program,” Carson said. “Digital equity and digital navigators are kind of the buzzword for the state now.”

Carson explained that the goal of the program is to teach people how to use the high speed internet that is increasingly becoming available to them. For free.

After going through the paperwork, putting together documentation, and getting letters of recommendation from several civic minded members of the community like Cathlamet Mayor David Olson, Wahkiakum School District Superintendent Brent Freeman, Wahkiakum County Commissioner Lee Tischer, and State Representative Joel McEntire, a proposal was submitted.

In September, Carson’s company, Computer Link Northwest learned they were one of 17 recipients of the grant. They have been awarded $290,000.

The digital navigator program will start in coming weeks.

The grant will fund four elements to the program that Carson is proposing, all while providing employment for some tech savvy folks around the community who will become Digital Navigators.

The first is to provide free support and training to individuals in the community, helping users access online services, safely use their email and internet; and to provide network and WIFI support, including troubleshooting problems on cell phones, tablets, printers, and more.

CLNW also plans to offer self guided training programs and one on one tutoring.

The second component of the proposal is to aid residents whose low income is a barrier to obtaining internet and devices. Low income residents can apply for assistance through the Affordable Connectivity Program, while residents who qualify at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level may receive free devices to access that internet.

“Eligible residents often don’t know of the assistance available, so CLNW will be using advertising and social media to communicate with those that can receive assistance,” Carson’s press release said.

The third goal is to establish and improve community tech centers.

“The Cathlamet Library, the new Appelo Annex at Vista Park, and the Johnson Park Community Center in Rosburg will be receiving new computers, peripherals, and networking equipment,” Carson’s press release said. “The library has been using borrowed equipment and this grant will allow us to give them new computers. We’ll be working with Port District number 2 to establish the Annex as a key hub in Skamokawa.”

Digital Navigators will be available at all three locations on a scheduled basis or by appointment, to help users with equipment, training, and technical support, Carson said.

The final goal is to upgrade the network security and computer equipment for fire stations, historical organizations, non-profit organizations, and schools where devices are outdated and often not very secure in our county, according to Carson.

“We look forward to meeting with representatives from these organizations and helping them purchase, install, configure and secure devices so they can continue serving our community,” he said.

The $290,000 grant includes $180,000 for new hardware, $80,000 for labor, and $30,000 for advertising, rent, utilities, and overhead. The grant runs through June 2023, but there may be an opportunity to extend it another two years.

“We’ve had a lot of community support for getting this thing going, I think there will be a lot of community support for helping us spend the money,” Carson said. “Hopefully the extensions are a fairly painless process to be able to continue to provide the services for a couple years.”

“We wanted to give people a boost so we don’t need to ask for money quite as much,” Carson said. “If we can give people the training or the tools to be able to hold down a job, their job from home, or a digital center somewhere, that’s a good thing. Let us pay taxes to help somebody else that needs help.”


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