2018 Charles Benton Digital Equity Award

Adrianne B. Furniss

Presentation of Charles Benton Digital Equity Award to Deb Socia

Net Inclusion 2018

April 18, 2018

(prepared remarks)

Before I begin, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, who was charged with managing the Benton Digital Equity Champion Award process this year, and also thank her dedicated committee.

If there’s anything that coming to a gathering like Net Inclusion really brings home, it is that addressing inequity is the responsibility of everyone in the community. None of us can solve a problem like digital inclusion working on our own. It takes collaboration; a web of dedicated advocates from all over the country working on all aspects of the issue.

So, I am thrilled that the third annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award honors one of our field’s great collaborators, Deb Socia.

Deb is the Founding Executive Director of Next Century Cities. NCC strives to support community leaders across the country as they seek to ensure that everyone has access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet.  More than 180 cities strong, Next Century Cities is committed to celebrating city successes, and sharing information and best practices to demonstrate the value, and elevate the importance, of next-generation broadband as essential infrastructure.

And, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to share our own collaboration with Deb. In 2016-2017, Benton had the pleasure of working with the team at Next Century Cities on the Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Awards. These awards highlight innovative approaches from three cities who use high-speed broadband to improve civic engagement and democratic participation.

Deb’s leadership demonstrated that small grants could leverage additional financial and community support.  And the NCC authored the Five Lessons for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement Playbook, which Benton published. The playbook shared best practices with other communities, impacting the national conversation.

In addition to collaboration, Deb is about trust and relationships. She realizes that digital inclusion isn’t something that happens to a community; her initiatives happen with the communities they’re designed to support.

NCC encourages cities to use their convening power to bring together community stakeholders on crafting solutions to digital inclusion issues to ensure everyone’s participation in our digital society.

Deb is about innovation. As former executive director of Boston’s Tech Goes Home, she helped empower communities to access and use digital tools to overcome barriers to technology adoption and advance lives. Her work helped low-income and underserved populations, those without technology at home, the unemployed and underemployed, people who do not speak English, and individuals with disabilities.

Ubiquitous connectivity, regardless of age, education, experience, neighborhood, I think we all agree, is essential. Deb’s work is a light that demonstrates that it is possible.

I’d like to close with a quote from one of her nominators, in part because it reminded me how much Charles Benton and Deb had in common – they both started their careers as teachers:  

“In every role she takes on, in every fight she champions, and in every community she serves, she is first and foremost an educator. What does that mean? She is a revolutionary, a passionate advocate - to her absolute core, she has devoted her life to ensuring that the next generation will have more opportunities than previous ones… It means that she loves her work, that she tackles challenges with unbridled passion… That she empowers, believes in, and changes the lives of individuals and their families. That she takes what’s at her disposal to diminish isolation, build bridges, improve quality of life, and foster agency and resilience within communities. That she is an unsung hero, and one unquestionably deserving of recognition.”

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in celebrating the 2018 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion, Deb Socia.

By Adrianne B. Furniss.