Digital Inclusion Heroes

Adrianne B. Furniss
Presentation of Charles Benton Digital Equity Award to David Keyes
May 18, 2016
as prepared for delivery

“Functional Internet access is essential for full participation in society.”

“Broadband Internet access service is essential to education, public health, and public safety.”

Although many of you have known this for quite some time, some people may have dismissed these proclamations as mere rhetorical flourishes.
Now they are the findings of the Federal Communications Commission, the primary authority for U.S. communications laws, regulation and technological innovation.

Adding broadband to the list of the services that are supported by Federal universal service support mechanisms, the FCC decided, is consistent with the public interest, convenience and necessity. Hallelujah!

We all fully expect the FCC’s decision to impact millions of lives, extending the benefits of broadband to people who, frankly, have faced the very real choice between an Internet connection or being able to put food on the table. I don’t discount that; I ask that, just for a moment, we consider the policy impact of the FCC’s Lifeline order.

Here’s some more language drawn from the FCC’s decision:

  • “It is imperative for us to include broadband Internet access service as a supported service.”
  • “The importance of broadband Internet to our Nation makes it critical that every American has access to the Internet.”
  • “Broadband access is of critical importance for consumers of all incomes. Surveys show that when households have the means, they connect to the Internet at home at rates upward of 95 percent.”

Again, these aren’t my rhetorical flourishes, this is the FCC setting national policy – broadband for all.

Now the FCC’s Lifeline reforms will help tackle the primary obstacle to broadband adoption. As the Order reads, “We adopt reforms to make the Commission’s Lifeline program a key driver of the solution to our Nation’s broadband affordability challenge.”

But the FCC’s decision wisely goes beyond affordable wires. The FCC gets it. The FCC understands that there are additional, serious barriers to broadband adoption. The FCC understands that we are not just connecting people to wires for the wire’s sake – we are connecting people and information to ensure every community, every household has access to opportunity.

Beyond an affordable connection, people need knowledge of broadband’s potential, digital literacy and 21st century skills to make full use of the many benefits of the Internet. Yes, the FCC gets that we need Digital Inclusion.

The work of the Digital Inclusion heroes in this room – and their colleagues around the country – is the next step for low-income consumers, seniors, immigrants and many more to fully participate in our increasingly digital society. The FCC gets that and is asking for help in writing a Digital Inclusion plan.

With the formation of National Digital Inclusion Alliance, with Angela Siefer’s strong leadership, with the convening of The National Digital Inclusion Summit, this is the perfect moment to begin this conversation.

I am here today to present the first Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. Realizing the power of communications, Charles sought out telecommunications policy solutions aimed at enhancing community and our democracy. He was an early and consistent champion for digital inclusion and community participation in broadband and he encouraged cities to examine their role in promoting broadband.

Charles’ life was a testament to the principle that real change is the result of sustained effort. David Keyes, the Digital Equity Manager for the City of Seattle, embodies that principle today and has for over 20 years. David has championed a holistic approach to closing the Digital Divide. When Angela first told me about David, she said “his approach goes beyond computers and wires to include affordable broadband service, the skills needed to make the most of technology, and the content and services relevant to users’ lives.”

After working in community media, educational TV, and online course development, David became Seattle’s – and the nation’s – first community technology planner. He developed Seattle’s access and adoption research project, award-winning Technology Matching Fund community grants program, cable broadband for non-profits program, and racial equity IT Project management toolkit.

It is my honor to present David with the first Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. I know my father is beaming – somewhere – today … not for the honor of an award in his name, but because a community hero is being recognized for making lives better by empowering them through communications, and for providing the essential tools for full participation in society.

Ladies and gentlemen – David Keyes.

By Adrianne B. Furniss.