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Digital Equity

CBSN

IN THE NEWS: Dr. Rhinesmith Appears on CBSN

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital InclusionNo Comments
CI Lab Director, Dr. Colin Rhinesmith joined CBS News political contributor and BluePrint Strategy founder Antjuan Seawright to talk with CBSN’s Lana Zak about the necessity of affordable internet access and President Biden’s infrastructure plan.

For more on the “Homework Gap,” I would recommend my colleague, John Horrigan’s excellent work in the recent Alliance for Excellent Education report, “Students of Color Caught in the Homework Gap” and Common Sense Media report, titled “The Homework Gap: Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide.”

For more information about the necessity of affordable access to the internet, please see my 2019 article, titled “The Ability to Pay for Broadband” for the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society with my colleagues, Dr. Bianca Reisdorf and Madison Bishop. To learn more about the high cost of internet service in the U.S., check out the excellent “Cost of Connectivity” report from New America.

Finally, to learn more about the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program, see this excellent primer from Next Century Cities and additional information and resources from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

State of Illinois Seal

NEW REPORT: Universal Broadband in Illinois

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, Publications, ResearchNo Comments

In a new report by John Horrigan (Technology Policy Institute), Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University), and Colin Rhinesmith (Simmons University and CI Lab Director), the authors present findings from a study of broadband affordability for all residents in Illinois.

In the report, titled “Universal Broadband in Illinois: Studying the Costs of Providing Free and Affordable Service for All Residents” the executive summary states,

“This report presents findings from a study of technology and internet adoption in Illinois and includes cost estimates for providing free broadband access as well as the alternative goal of providing affordable broadband access to all residents in the State, including in areas with high poverty levels. This study is unique in that it not only examines what the State needs to do to promote universal broadband infrastructure; it also considers universal broadband affordability and adoption. In other words, this report recognizes that broadband infrastructure is only ‘one side of the connectivity coin, as Connect Illinois has identified in its strategic plan.”

A summary of the report with key findings can be found in this blog post published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

 

Illinois Broadband Affordability Report

NEW REPORT: Growing Healthy Digital Equity Ecosystems

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, Publications, ResearchNo Comments

We are excited to announce the publication of our new Benton Institute for Broadband & Society report, Growing Healthy Digital Equity Ecosystems During COVID-19 and Beyond. This report presents findings from a survey of individuals representing a diverse group of organizations across the United States that have self-identified as being part of either a formal, informal, or emerging digital inclusion coalition. The purpose of our study was to better understand the role these coalitions have played in supporting what we are calling “digital equity ecosystems” in their communities during the challenges of the pandemic.

We define “digital equity ecosystems” as the interactions between individuals, populations, and their larger socio-technical environments that all play a role in shaping the digital inclusion work in local communities to promote more equitable access to technology and social and racial justice.

We believe the next administration, led by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, can benefit from understanding the community-based tactics, particularly in poor communities and communities of color, that have emerged in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In our new report, we show how digital inclusion coalitions have leveraged their communities’ digital equity ecosystems to address their communities’ broadband-related needs while facing significant barriers due to limited personnel, technological, and financial support for digital equity.

You can find the report and the related Benton Digital Beat article here.

Here is a summary of our main findings:

Digital inclusion coalitions established before the pandemic have responded to COVID-19 by focusing their efforts on information and resource sharing, networking, data collection, raising awareness about digital inequality, and developing new tactics to promote digital equity. These coalitions have worked to coordinate investments and develop new funding opportunities to support their existing work such as providing access to computers, low-cost internet service, and Wi-Fi hotspots for more vulnerable members of their communities. In our survey, 29% of respondents indicated that they were part of digital equity coalitions that formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These new and emerging coalitions have organized others in their communities, focusing on ways to provide access to the internet, digital devices, and digital literacy training for low-income individuals and families. Respondents described several factors that made it possible to respond in these ways, including: their existing relationships and collaborations, awareness of existing policy constraints, capacity and knowledge about how to best engage with key stakeholders (both inside and outside local government), as well as years of existing digital inclusion experience. Others cite new funding opportunities as key support for their response, with 52% of respondents indicating that their organization or community used CARES Act funding for digital inclusion activities.

The pandemic has introduced several new challenges for digital inclusion coalitions and has magnified a number of existing challenges. These challenges include obstacles to getting sufficient buy-in from broadband internet service providers to support their efforts, as well as barriers to working with local elected officials to make free and/or low-cost internet access a policy priority. Some coalitions cite the lack of infrastructure in rural areas, as well as insufficient resources, staff time, and funding to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, respondents described social distancing rules as a challenge when many of their digital inclusion activities rely on in-person instruction and devices. Several respondents highlighted the challenge of balancing responses to the urgent, short-term needs that the pandemic presents—such as hotspot and device distribution for K-12 digital learning—with long-term, sustained investment in broadband access, adoption, and literacy.

Digital inclusion coalitions are finding ways to creatively solve problems to address their communities’ digital needs. These solutions include developing new and expanded partnerships, including partnering with community members; piloting new initiatives; collaboratively seeking new sources of funding; pivoting to online training in digital skills training and virtual tech help; sharing information and resources with their communities; and offering socially distanced, masked, and outdoor events. In addition, there are more stakeholders interested in digital inclusion initiatives than ever before, especially K-12 schools, health care providers, and local nonprofits. Two of our respondents indicated the importance of making connections between the COVID-19 pandemic, digital inequality, and racial injustice when developing digital equity solutions. Respondents indicated that several new tactics will continue even when the health crisis ends, including: virtual learning services; development of digital equity plans, expanding broadband infrastructure, raising awareness of digital equity work, prioritizing device accessibility and training in digital literacy, and promoting data-collection efforts.

Cities, counties, states, and national organizations have also played key roles in supporting local digital equity ecosystems. Cities, counties, and states have played significant roles in addressing digital inequality during the pandemic, such as making funds available for internet and device access, including free community Wi-Fi access points and free or discounted in-home internet access. Cities and counties have also worked with their public libraries to expand Wi-Fi hotspot availability. Statewide and multi-state coalitions have focused their efforts on the following: providing maps of free internet locations, compiling lists of low-cost internet deals, providing recommendations for COVID-19 task forces, creating online-resource webpages, informing people about digital equity, offering information on funding opportunities and state actions, and collaborating to share knowledge and resources. National nonprofits have worked to address digital inequality in communities across the United States through their work with local digital inclusion coalitions to promote literacy training in digital literacy, as well as device refurbishing and reuse.

Illinois Developing Broadband Leadership Series

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, Publications, ResearchNo Comments

On June 3rd, CI Lab Director Dr. Colin Rhinesmith presented at the fourth part of the University of Illinois Extension Developing Broadband Leadership Webinar Series, which focused on broadband adoption, affordability, and inclusion. This series was co-sponsored by the University of Illinois extension, the Illinois Office of Broadband, and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. 

Alongside special guest Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton and speakers Gigi Sohn (Georgetown Law Institute for Technology, Law and Policy), Debbie Alfredson (Deputy Director, Winnebago County Housing Authority), Karin Norington-Reaves (Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership), and Casey Sorenson (PCs for People), Dr. Rhinesmith presented on his 2016 Benton Foundation report, “Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives.”

As Dr. Rhinesmith highlighted the research in the report intended to provide evidence to help inform initiatives such as the FCC’s Lifeline Universal Service program, which at the time was being reformed to help provide a broadband subsidy to low-income consumers. Research questions guiding the study included:

What are the key characteristics of low-cost Internet and digital literacy training programs for vulnerable populations?

What indicators do broadband adoption programs use to measure the success of their programs?

After visiting eight community-based organizations across the country, Dr. Rhinesmith identified a four-part digital inclusion strategy common to these organizations. Part of this strategy includes making low-cost computers available in addition to low-cost broadband and digital literacy training. The presentation concludes with the reminder:

The full webinar has been recorded, and you can view Dr. Rhinesmith’s slides here.

New Co-Edited Special Issue in Social Inclusion

By Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, Journals, Publications, ResearchNo Comments

The open access journal, Social Inclusion published a new special issue, titled “Digital Inclusion Across the Globe: What Is Being Done to Tackle Digital Inequities?” The issue was co-edited by Dr. Bianca Reisdorf (University of North Carolina at Charlotte) and Community Informatics Lab Director, Dr. Colin Rhinesmith.

As the abstract explains,

“There is a large body of research that has examined digital inequities, inequalities, and divides—i.e., those countries, communities, and individuals digitally left behind or disadvantaged. Whereas we know quite a lot about what is lacking and for whom, there is less focus on what works to alleviate these inequalities and divides in a variety of cultural contexts. This thematic issue brings together scholarship on digital inclusion initiatives and research from over 20 countries and in the context of numerous aspects, including different types of initiatives as well as different types of target audiences for these initiatives. Each article provides unique insights into what does and does not work in various communities, making recommendations on what could be done to improve the examined initiatives. We hope that the breadth and depth of articles presented here will be useful not just for academic audiences seeking to broaden their understanding of digital inclusion and ‘what can be done’ rather than focusing on ‘what is amiss,’ but also for policymakers and digital inclusion initiatives who are eager to expand and advance their digital inclusion work within their communities.”

The entire issue is open access and available for free on the Social Inclusion website.

City of Boston Digital Equity Fund

By Digital EquityNo Comments

The City of Boston just announced their new Digital Equity Fund. This initiative will be overseen by the Mayor’s Department of Innovation & Technology. Colin Rhinesmith was invited to join the advisory board along with the following people: Alessandra Brown, Director, Roxbury Innovation Center; Turahn Dorsey, Chief of Education, City of Boston: Trinh Nguyen, Director of Workforce Development, City of Boston; and Sasha Costanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Here is a snippet from today’s press release:

“Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the creation of a $35,000 Digital Equity Fund, which will support the City’s goal of ensuring all residents have equal access to digital services. The Digital Equity Fund will provide support to community-based organizations that help Boston residents fully connect and participate in today’s media and information landscape. ‘A more connected Boston is a more equitable City, a more innovative City and a more prosperous City,’ said Mayor Walsh. ‘This grant program will allow more residents to connect digitally, and will encourage residents to grow their digital skills while increasing access to information.’

The Digital Equity Fund will explore ways to build individual and community capacity to:

  • Use the Internet, digital skills, and digital tools to pursue professional, educational, and civic endeavors;
  • Engage with the Internet safely and securely;
  • Develop needs-responsive, community driven digital skills building opportunities;
  • Increase broadband adoption among the roughly 1 in 5 Bostonians who do not subscribe to this service in the home.

In 2017, Boston will award one grant of $35,000 or up to two grants up to $17,500 each to nonprofit organizations that promote digital equity. By providing seed funding, the City hopes to identify promising strategies that can attract outside funding and further create a City where everyone has the tools and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.”

Read the full press release here.

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