Knight Foundation funds ‘universal access’

Over the next five years, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami will invest $25 million to boost civic engagement by expanding digital access.

Ultimately, the project will reach the 26 communities in which the foundation’s corporate founder owned newspapers.

The goal is use internet access to create virtual town squares in these communities to help citizens take advantage of civic, social and economic opportunities.

Dubbed the Knight Center of Digital Excellence, the project will collect and disseminate best practices and help communities find ways to enable their citizens to connect with each other and the world at large.

A first-year grant of $4.5 million will be directed to OneCommunity, the Cleveland-based nonprofit technology company that will staff the Knight Center.

The first project, to take place in Akron, Ohio, will be funded by an initial $625,000 grant, and will leverage OneCommunity’s existing broadband network to create a “digital town square.”

The project, once completed, will provide universal internet access in an area of about eight to 12 miles, including the downtown area.

The overall effort also includes a $10 million Digital Opportunity fund that will provide challenge grants to Knight communities.

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