Tynkertopia hosts listening session on internet access funding for northern Arizona

Representatives from the Biden administration visited Tynkertopia on Monday to discuss ways to invest in the area’s local internet access and STEAM education efforts.

Northern Arizona will be receiving funding as part of the administration’s Internet For All Initiative, which is meant to bring “reliable high-speed internet to everyone in America.”

Grant programs under the initiative are used to fund planning, infrastructure and adoption of digital equity projects.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law sets aside $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access across the United States, including the $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act the funding is part of. At least $100 million will be going toward internet access in Arizona, with grants expected to come to the state in the next few weeks.

“This will kick off the state’s efforts to create a five-year plan to deploy affordable, reliable high-speed internet,” said Angela Thi Bennett, digital equity director at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

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“While they plan, we will determine, based on a new highly detailed map of where high-speed internet is and isn’t available from the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]the full budget allocation afforded to each state based on need,” she said.

The determination is expected to come in the first half of 2023, after the map has been reviewed by the states.

“The president made a commitment, a promise, that every household in America would be connected to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet,” Bennett said in the meeting. “Not just the internet, but with devices and tools and resources to really help improve the lives of every American.”

She added at a later time: “Generations before us brought water and electricity to all of America. They built the interstate highway system. This is our generation’s infrastructure moment. This is our opportunity to connect everyone in America to the tools they need to thrive in the modern digital economy.”



Alice Christie, left, founder and executive director of Tynkertopia, listens to Angie Bennett, the director of digital equity for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Monday afternoon during a tour of Tynkertopia.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun

The hope with the process, Bennett said, is “to make sure all of the voices are heard, and not only heard, but part of the solutions.”

Monday’s event was the second listening session offered on the funding in Flagstaff that day, with an earlier session at the Murdoch Center focusing on internet access efforts.

The listening sessions are designed to get local feedback on how the funding can be implemented in a way that is most useful to communities.

“Our hope is to do a lot of listening and to better understand the experience of people across Arizona,” said Erin Carr-Jordan, managing director of the Digital Equity Institute. “Our goal is all Arizona, so today, I hope, is the first of many times we come back and we do a lot of listening and learning.”

Bennett mentioned that internet access help is currently available to Arizonans through the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program. This gives eligible households a discount on internet service (up to $30 per month and as much as $75 per month for households on tribal lands) and devices (up to $100 one time).

She cited expert estimates that as many as 1,075,000 Arizona households are eligible for the program, with 318,583 currently enrolled.



listening tour

Angie Bennett, the director of digital equity for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, plays with children during a tour of Tynkertopia Monday afternoon.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun

The afternoon listening session came after a tour of Tynkertopia — which was discussed as a possible model for other efforts to encourage learning in kids and people of all ages.

“Every job in the future will require STEAM skills,” said Alice Christie, Tynkertopia’s founder and executive director. “Critical thinking, problem solving, persistence, perseverance, collaboration.”

Tynkertopia is a community STEAM (which stands for Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics) learning center created in 2018. In 2021, it reopened to its current location in the Siler Homes community in Flagstaff, where it has seen more than 8,500 visits from kids and their families.



listening tour

Angie Bennett, the director of digital equity for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, plays with children during a tour of Tynkertopia Monday afternoon.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun

Anyone can come explore the art and science activities available at Tynkertopia, with neighborhood kids aged 6 and older welcome to visit on their own. The center hosts several events throughout the year and has distributed thousands of STEAM activity kits to Flagstaff students, including during the pandemic.

Board member Diana White said the space provides kids the opportunity to explore until they find their own passion.

The center has shelves full of puzzles, toys, books and crafting materials, with dedicated rooms for play, art and classes. Kids can bring in items to look at under a digital microscope, use a 3D printer to design and create objects, help tend the container plants growing throughout the space or experiment with a virtual reality headset.

“They just come and they mess with everything until something sparks,” White said. “Then that’s their passion, and that might well be their life’s passion, that might be what they want to go to school for in the future. …When adults come into this space, it can be a little overwhelming, but for a kid, they’re like, ‘What can I do?’ We don’t know what will be the thing that I go to school for this and now I have a Ph.D. in it because I remember going to Tynkertopia every day after school. That’s what we can do.”

Information about Tynkertopia is available at tynkertopia.org. To learn more or enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program, visit getinternet.gov.



listening tour

Community members and stakeholders listen to Angie Bennett, the director of digital equity for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, during a tour of Tynkertopia Monday afternoon.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun

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