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An operator works the 211 health and human services assistance line, which now includes resources for getting people connected to the internet.

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Joshua Franzos

A support platform that works to provide health and human services to people across western Pennsylvania is expanding capabilities to help people obtain broadband internet connectivity.

PA 211 Southwest, itself part of the national 211 Call Centers initiative, has launched its Digital Navigator Network to better inform residents across the Pittsburgh metro about affordable and even no-cost internet services that may be available to them.

It’s an effort made possibly by United Way in Southwestern Pennsylvania, which manages the local 211 service, and Comcast Corp., which offered a $363,000 grant to support the endeavor.

“This was just a no-brainer for us and its alignment with the things that we care about and are helping to solve in the community,” Bobbi Watt Geer, president and CEO of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said. “It’s just, I think, a real natural step for us to be in a leadership role in this particular manner with the Digital Navigator Network.”

Watt Geer said the local 211 service took over 522,000 contacts last year. Now everyone who uses the service going forward can learn about internet availability options and how to best get connected to a broadband service provider.

The Digital Navigator Network has also teamed up with Literacy Pittsburgh, Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the YWCA of Westmoreland County to better inform residents of the broadband internet options available to them.

To take advantage of the new service, people can dial 211 to speak on the phone with an operator or they can text their ZIP code number to 98-211 to receive support via messaging. People can also visit the PA 211 Southwest website.

For its part, Comcast credits its involvement with the Digital Navigator Network program as being part of its Project UP endeavor, a $1 billion commitment looking to advance digital equity and ending the digital divide found in communities across the nation.

“Digital Navigator programs are powerful tools that allow us to work together to improve broadband adoption and close the digital divide across our neighborhoods,” Ray Roundtree, senior vice president of Comcast’s Keystone Region, said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to support individuals and families across the region and help them take advantage of all the internet has to offer.”

Pennsylvania has received more than $1.7 billion in federal funding to expand high-speed internet access across the commonwealth, which comes as part of President Joe Biden’s “Internet for All” initiative that’s backed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Biden signed into law in November 2021.

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