Fulfilling Oklahoma's Digital Promise
Friday, November 10, 2023
Fulfilling Oklahoma’s Digital Promise
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Round-Up for the Week of November 6-10, 2023
All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are currently working on digital equity plans. As they release draft plans seeking public feedback, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is sharing summaries focused on how states define their digital divides and their vision for reaching digital equity.
The Oklahoma Broadband Office (OBO) released the state's draft Digital Equity Plan with one goal in mind: to fulfill Oklahoma's Digital Promise. That promise, more specifically, is to ensure all Oklahomans can access and use affordable internet to advance health care, education, business, agriculture, public safety, and community development. The draft Digital Equity Plan describes the strategies, objectives, and actions that the OBO will take to achieve this promise. OBO is accepting public comments on the draft plan until November 13, 2023.
Oklahoma's Vision of Digital Equity
OBO leads its draft Digital Equity Plan with two statements in mind: its vision for digital equity, and its Digital Promise to Oklahomans.
Oklahoma's vision is that Oklahomans will have access to the information, resources, and skills needed to participate in society to the fullest and to remain competitive in a digital marketplace.
Oklahoma's mission or Digital Promise is to close the digital divide by encouraging and facilitating partnerships across sectors, offering targeted grants to communities and organizations that address digital equity gaps, and by supporting communities’ digital equity planning and programming.
A key aspect of OBO’s vision is the collaboration with the state’s 39 tribes, as most unserved and underserved locations identified in the state are on tribal land (approximately 81% of unserved and 80% of underserved). Many of the same concerns and barriers identified in stakeholder engagement activities were also raised during the OBO’s tribal consultations. Participants expressed the desire for digital skills training, access to digital navigators at their local community anchor institutions, improved infrastructure, and more affordable service.
Populations with Barriers to Digital Equity
While 84.2 percent of households in Oklahoma subscribe to internet services of some kind, only 61.2 percent of households subscribe to fixed home internet (broadband such as cable, fiber optic, or DSL). There are large differences between counties. The highest rate of broadband adoption is 75 percent in Cleveland County, which is southeast of Oklahoma City. In fact, the five counties with the highest adoption rates (Cleveland, Canadian, Wagoner, Tulsa, and Oklahoma) either include urban areas or are adjacent to urban areas. Meanwhile, the five counties with the lowest adoption rates are in rural areas and predominantly on tribal lands.
Broadband affordability serves as an important determinant for home internet adoption. While many households may have access to broadband, some Oklahomans still struggle to pay for the service each month. According to data derived from a series of listening tours across the state, 59.2 percent of respondents believed that high costs were a barrier to households subscribing to home internet. Based on responses from the OBO's residential technology survey, residents pay an average of $61.60 for their internet service. Based on eligibility estimates produced by Education Superhighway and the number of total households from the 2021 iteration of the American Community Survey, roughly 46.4 percent of households in Oklahoma are eligible for the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Of those eligible, 45.3 percent of households have enrolled in the program.
Overall, listening tour attendees cited the affordability of internet service (59%) and the availability of internet service (57%) as the two largest barriers facing members of their communities.
The primary barrier to internet subscription identified for aging individuals is the belief that they did not need the internet (29%). Another 12 percent of respondents cited not having a computer that can access the internet, and another 12 percent said that the internet was too complicated. While 91 percent of aging individuals have a computer at home, respondents without one were twice as likely to say that they did not own one because computers are too complicated (compared to all respondents without a computer). Moreover, while over 90 percent of aging individuals subscribe to home internet service of some kind, those without it were nearly twice as likely to say they didn’t because the internet was too complicated (compared to all respondents without home internet).
These results suggest that aging individuals struggle with navigating the internet—likely because they survived without the internet for much of their lives—and could benefit from digital skills training. Internet safety was also an issue for this population: ensuring aging individuals feel safe navigating online applications and platforms is critical to reducing barriers and increasing adoption rates.
Low-Income Households (At or Below 150% of the Federal Poverty Threshold)
For low-income households, the primary barrier facing this population was feeling like they did not need the internet (23%). Following that, the next most mentioned barriers related to affordability—15 percent cited not having a computer that could access the internet, and another 15 percent said that the monthly cost of internet service was too expensive. Compared to all respondents without home internet, respondents from low-income households were more likely to say they did not subscribe because of cost and nearly twice as likely to say that they didn’t subscribe because they didn’t have a computer that could access the internet. Disaggregating further, compared to all respondents without a computer, individuals from low-income households were nearly twice as likely to say they didn’t own one because computers are too expensive.
In addition to affordability concerns, respondents from low-income households with home internet had slower internet service than others surveyed; over 16 percent subscribed to download speeds slower than 25 Mbps. Among all respondents with home internet, only 6 percent subscribed to such slow speeds.
Racial or Ethnic Minorities
The most cited barrier for racial and ethnic minorities was feeling like they did not need the internet (29%). Following that, 12 percent of respondents said that the monthly cost of internet service was too expensive, and another 12 percent did not own a computer that could access the internet. While the survey did not probe why individuals said that they did not need the internet, the next most cited barriers revolve around affordability. Among racial or ethnic minorities that do not own a computer, 18 percent said the main reason was that computers are too expensive (compared to 14% of all respondents without computers) and 21 percent used a cell phone instead of a computer for everything (compared to 18% 0f all respondents without computers).
Focus groups reinforced the survey findings. While these respondents saw the need for the internet, 25 percent referred to immediate family members who did not see the need. Almost 13 percent did not own a computer that could access the internet. Despite all 100 percent of respondents listing cost as a primary barrier, none of them knew about any programs that offer cheaper internet service or devices. Compared to all survey respondents, racial or ethnic minorities were less likely to be familiar with the Affordable Connectivity Program and less likely to participate.
Individuals who Reside in a Rural Area
A belief that they do not need home internet service is the top barrier among rural households, cited by nearly 1 in 5 of those who do not subscribe to home internet service. This barrier is followed by a lack of available internet service (cited by 12% of rural non-adopters), while 1 in 10 say they don’t want home internet service, the monthly cost is too expensive, and they lack a home computer. These challenges suggest that many rural Oklahomans have not determined that home internet service is beneficial enough to pay the installation and monthly costs.
Rural residents participated in several of the covered population focus groups. When talking about their barriers, they spoke of challenges accessing and affording internet, especially to engage online with telehealth.
Persons with Disabilities
For persons with disabilities, the most cited barrier was feeling like they did not need the internet (35%). Beyond that, another 11 percent of respondents did not subscribe because they use a smartphone to do everything they need to do online.
Unlike some of the other covered populations, the use of technology and the internet by persons with disabilities is heavily gated by accessibility. Websites and resources that do not meet standards may be physically impossible to access, which would make the internet less appealing in general. Not only would it seem more complicated, but there would be fewer available websites to access. Additionally, assistive technologies are highly specialized and do not always leverage interoperability to the same extent as comparable devices used by people without disabilities. To transition from one device to another would involve finding, installing, and learning new software.
For this group of Oklahomans, the top barrier to subscribing was feeling like they did not need the internet (27%). The second most cited reason was that they did not own a computer that could access the internet (19%). While rates of computer ownership among veterans are on par with the survey average, veterans were more than twice as likely to cite not having a computer as the main barrier to subscribing (compared to all respondents without home internet). Additionally, veterans pay comparatively more for their home internet than other covered populations. The average cost of internet among those surveyed was $61.60; veterans pay an average of $73.54 for their internet.
While 55 percent of all survey respondents were familiar with the ACP, only 37 percent of veterans had heard of it. Moreover, while 41 percent of respondents who had heard of the ACP participated, only 22 percent of veterans did. Not all veterans would qualify for the program, but any that receive the Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit would be eligible.
In the Veterans focus group, participants identified reliability as the biggest barrier to using the internet. Many cited affordability as another issue, but all participants concurred that broadband is a necessity they were willing to pay for. Several participants also talked about accessing military resources online, including using ID.me to verify military status and access resources.
Persons with Language Barriers
The most cited reason for not subscribing for persons with language barriers was feeling like they did not need the internet (44%). Beyond that, an additional 25 percent of respondents emphasized that the monthly cost of internet service was too expensive.
Compared to all survey respondents without home internet, persons with language barriers were more than twice as likely to cite the cost of internet as the main barrier to subscribing. This finding coincides with the language barrier focus group in which 100 percent of respondents cited the cost of internet as the main barrier. Individuals with language barriers were not less familiar with the ACP than other respondents, but they were much less likely to participate. Out of all survey respondents familiar with the program, 41 percent participated; for persons with language barriers, only 24 percent participated.
According to the National Institute of Corrections, Oklahoma has 93 jails in 77 counties. As of December 31, 2020, there were 22,462 prisoners under the jurisdiction of Oklahoma correctional authorities. This includes state prisons, private prisons, and local jails. State operated facilities had a staff of 4,902 and a budget of $634,500,000. Additionally, 23,027 offenders were under probation and 2,237 were under parole.
While the residential survey did not reach incarcerated individuals, the OBO did meet with organizations and community leaders who work with and represent currently and
formerly incarcerated individuals. These conversations provided insight into the general and technology-specific challenges that inmates face upon re-entry. Many of the barriers to re-entry formerly incarcerated individuals face, including employment, housing, and transportation, could be supported through increased access and adoption of high-speed internet.
During an Oklahoma Digital Equity Coalition call, community leaders cited workforce development and access to health care as leading barriers faced by recently released inmates. For example, many job applications and job interviews are online only. Not only do many recently released inmates leave the justice system with little money to afford a computer, tablet, or internet subscription, but oftentimes recently released inmates are not familiar with the specific technology required to complete online forms and processes. The combination of the affordability and digital skills gap places an added barrier for recently released inmates transitioning back into society. This cycle
often leads to mental health struggles. Access to affordable and reliable health care, specifically resources for mental health, is an integral part of reducing recidivism.
Indigenous and Native American Persons
Tribal communities have historically been one of the most underserved communities, which is reflected in the map of unserved and underserved locations. The OBO engaged with all 39 tribes with invitations for formal consultations and conducted these consultations throughout the planning process. During these tribal consultations, issues related to the mitigation of that lack of service took the forefront. Due to the lack of availability and investment in broadband infrastructure, tribal communities have often been relegated to using inferior technologies that may have poorer speeds, higher latency, higher upkeep costs, and/or inconsistent availability.
The lack of infrastructure has also limited the number of providers in these regions. With fewer providers and a lack of competition to drive prices down, the tribes have been forced into paying higher costs for worse service. This lack of adoption and use of internet services directly impacts tribal communities and their access to resources.
Another issue that was repeatedly mentioned during OBO's tribal consultations was the lack of grant writing experience that impacted their ability strategize and apply for tribal-specific grant funding. Often being led by elders, the tribes experienced a significant amount of turnover during COVID, which negatively impacted administrative work. Larger tribes with more consistent income were able to mitigate this to an extent, but the smaller, poorer tribes were left in a position where they could not take advantage of the large windfalls of federal funds.
By building and expanding programs, partnerships, and outreach in every region across the state, the OBO will accomplish its mission and vision to fulfill Oklahoma’s digital promise which includes affordability, access, and advancement.
Oklahomans identified affordability as a key barrier to being online.
Goal: All Oklahomans, regardless of income, can subscribe to the internet and participate in online programs and resources with high-quality devices.
Objective: Ensure all Oklahomans have access to affordable high-speed internet.
- Increase enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program and other low-cost internet service programs.
- Disseminate ACP outreach materials through community anchor institution networks and other partners to drive program awareness and accessibility.
- Utilize existing and planned digital navigators at public computing centers and libraries to help covered populations enroll in the ACP.
- Partner with the Oklahoma State Department of Education to provide ACP resources to students utilizing free and reduced-cost lunches or other ACP-qualifying programs.
What success looks like:
- Increase ACP enrollment by 10 percent.
- Train all digital navigators in CAIs in ACP enrollment.
- Increase the number of partners working with the OBO on internet and device affordability.
Objective: Ensure all Oklahomans have access to internet-enabled devices.
- Identify and promote free and reduced-cost device distribution programs, such as computer refurbishment programs and library lending programs.
- Expand the tablet program in Oklahoma correctional facilities.
- Engage with local CAIs, technology centers, and nonprofits who participate in or are interested in participating in device refurbishment and distribution programs.
- Partner with K-12 and higher education institutions to enable 1:1 device programs.
- Support and promote access to quality technical support options.
- Encourage technology centers and education institutions to implement technical support programs that are freely accessible to covered populations.
- Identify and partner with other federal and state device programs, such as Lifeline.
- Partner with Lifeline providers to help promote ACP adoption alongside the Lifeline Program.
- Train digital navigators on Lifeline enrollment processes and outreach.
What success looks like:
- Increase the number of device access programs in the state.
- Increase the number of technical support programs available in communities.
Having the ability to access and safely engage with the digital world is essential.
Goal: All Oklahomans have the ability to access online resources and navigate digital opportunities safely.
Objective: Ensure Oklahoma residents and community anchor institutions have access to reliable high-speed internet.
- Ensure all community anchor institutions (CAIs) can connect to affordable, high-quality internet.
- Add community anchor institutions to the Oklahoma broadband map to identify funding gaps.
- Implement a grant funding program specific to CAIs for digital inclusion advancement and expansion.
- Conduct an annual audit of CAIs technology capabilities.
- Evaluate a statewide solution for E-Rate filing assistance.
- Ensure tribal communities have equitable access to broadband services.
- Encourage internet service providers to provide digital equity resources to tribal communities within their service areas/build-out areas.
- Provide technical support to tribal communities in creating their own digital equity plans.
- Encourage tribes to implement tribal digital navigators and provide support as needed.
- Increase the ability of multifamily dwelling units (MDUs) to implement free, reliable high-speed internet and/or Wi-Fi for their residents.
- Partner with Education Superhighway to encourage multifamily dwelling units (MDUs) to increase access to high-speed internet.
- Reach out to cities to promote links to city internet.
- Identify and fund pilot MDU locations through a grant program throughout the life cycle of the funding program.
- Leverage existing partnerships with rural development and economic development organizations to help promote and fund the installation of Wi-Fi infrastructure in MDUs.
- Evaluate best practices for implementing free apartment Wi-Fi and distribute resources to support implementation.
What success looks like:
- All CAIs are visible on the state broadband map.
- The OBO develops and implements a CAI-specific grant program.
- Tribal communities develop digital equity plans.
- Tribal members have access to digital navigators in their areas.
- Grant programs are implemented to expand internet access in MDUs.
Objective: Ensure Oklahomans can access and use digital resources safely.
- Incorporate digital literacy and internet safety training into existing education, training, and community outreach programs.
- Develop technology training programs for rural communities.
- Identify virtual training resources that can be incorporated into workforce training programs for covered populations.
- Provide grant funding for CAIs and community support organizations to offer digital literacy training to seniors and other covered populations.
- Create an online resource to allow all Oklahomans to find and connect to available programs and support.
- Continue to collect resources and develop an interactive public map with digital equity programs for covered populations in the state.
- Develop internet safety training materials to ensure Oklahomans can stay safe online.
- Partner with the Oklahoma Information Sharing and Analysis Center to create an internet safety best practices outreach toolkit for public distribution.
- Encourage public computing centers to implement policies and procedures that are compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
- Promote safe online banking, especially in communities with low access to physical bank locations.
- Partner with the American Bankers Association and related organizations to create trainings and best practices for safe online banking.
What success looks like:
- Increase the number of digital literacy training courses offered in the state.
- Digital equity map published and used by residents.
- Online publishing of internet safety toolkit.
- All public computing centers maintain CIPA compliance.
- Increase utilization of safe online banking.
Objective: Increase accessibility of state digital resources for covered populations.
- Support state agencies with required accessibility audits, reporting, and best practices to ensure accessibility across all government websites.
- Encourage state agencies to develop multilingual materials in multiple formats to increase access to state data and resources.
- Partner with NewView to annually assess the accessibility of state agency websites and provide recommendations for improvement.
- Help distribute the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services’ Disability Resource Guide to CAIs to ensure accessibility of resources
What success looks like:
- Increase accessibility of state agency websites.
- Annual report from NewView of accessibility recommendations for state agency websites.
Ensuring Oklahomans have the skills needed to use affordable, reliable high-speed internet will allow every resident to fully participate in the online world.
Goal: All Oklahomans will have an increased ability to access online resources and training in ways that advance their health, education, and economic opportunities.
Objective: Ensure Oklahomans can participate in online opportunities to advance health, education, and economic goals.
- Increase access to telehealth programs across the state.
- Partner with the Corporation Commission to create a telehealth onboarding package that includes information about broadband funding.
- Add telehealth layer to the OBO broadband map.
- Create a telehealth subcommittee within the Digital Equity Coalition.
- Expand telehealth programs in more locations, including libraries, correctional facilities, schools, and rural health clinics.
- Ensure local, regional, and state planning processes include digital equity components.
- Provide technical support and model documents for local and regional digital equity planning.
- Encourage economic development and workforce strategic plans to include digital equity components.
- Increase the number of digital navigator programs in rural libraries.
- Develop a grant program to provide rural libraries with a digital navigator.
- Develop and provide training and resources to existing digital navigator programs in the state.
- Identify potential areas of coordination and partnership across state agencies.
- Share annual report of the OBO activities with state agencies.
- Identify potential state agencies to serve as additional members of the Digital Equity Coalition.
- Explore programmatic and data collection activities that support increased connectivity and other statewide goals in workforce, education, health, civic and social engagement, and essential services.
What success looks like:
- Increase the number of digital navigators by 10% each year of the grant program.
- Develop and publish digital equity planning resources for local communities.
- Increase the number of telehealth resources that are available in the state.
- Evaluate existing telehealth programs and provide a report describing best practices.
Objective: Ensure Oklahoma is able to meet workforce and economic development goals so all citizens can thrive in a digital world.
- Collaborate with partner agencies and organizations to leverage technology to support rural economic and community development.
- Partner with Oklahoma Taskforce for Workforce Development to establish partnerships and assist with workforce development plan.
- Encourage work-from-home job placement in rural communities.
- Partner with economic development agencies to support CAIs expanding their digital footprint and outreach.
- Increase access to workforce training programs for covered populations.
- Utilize public-private partnerships to develop workforce programs targeted at the point of need.
- Partner with Technology Centers across the state to build technology-specific workforce curriculum.
- Partner with Oklahoma CareerTech, libraries, and other workforce development organizations to implement digital literacy programs in correctional facilities.
- Encourage CAIs to create technology-focused five-year plans that can be leveraged for future funding opportunities.
- Develop and provide templates and general guidance on creating technology plans and identifying potential funding opportunities.
- Identify resources to help CAIs inventory their current technology hardware and programs.
What success looks like:
- Ensure workforce development plans have digital skills and technology jobs components.
- Increase the number of public-private partnerships for workforce development.
- Increase the number of CAIs with an understanding of their current resources and plans for upgrades.
Send Your Feedback to Oklahoma
Public comments on Oklahoma's draft Digital Equity Plan can be submitted using the OBO's public comment survey until November 13, 2023. More information about Oklahoma's digital equity efforts can be found on the OBO website.
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Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
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- USDA 2023 Technology Use Report (USDA)
- 3Q 2023 OpenVault Broadband Insights report
- Broadband Infrastructure Playbook 3.0 (Fiber Broadband Association, NTCA)
- Pathways Forward: Learnings and Takeaways in Digital Access (Patterson Foundation)
ICYMI from Benton
- Vets Were There for U.S., Let's Make Sure ACP Is There for Vets
- From Detours to Destinations
- The ACP High-Cost Benefit Isn’t Going to Break the ACP Bank
- Lessons From State Broadband Grants Before The Pandemic
- The Best of Times or the Worst of Times: Which Will It Be?
- Missouri Pursues Sustainable Digital Opportunity Initiatives
Nov 14––The Connect20 Summit (Network:On)
Nov 14––Leveraging AI to Enhance American Communications (House Commerce Committee)
Nov 14––Regulating digital industries (Brookings)
Nov 15––U.S. Broadband Summit (Fierce)
Nov 15––Code to Conduct in AI: Open Source, Privacy, and More (Mozilla)
Nov 16––Addressing the Broadband Labor Shortage (telecompetitor)
Nov 17––Maternal Health Roundtable (FCC)
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