Visions of Digital Equity Principles

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Digital Beat

Visions of Digital Equity Principles

We’re asking states to articulate what success looks like when we achieve digital opportunity for all.

Adrianne B. Furniss

Digital equity—or, digital opportunity, if you prefer—is having a moment.

Our persistent digital divide is a barrier to our economic competitiveness and equitable distribution of essential public services, including health care and education. And the digital divide exacerbates existing wealth and income gaps, especially in communities of color, lower-income areas, and rural parts of the United States.

But the U.S. is making an unprecedented investment to ensure that individuals and communities have the capacity to fully participate in our society and economy. This includes access to, and the use of, affordable information and communication technologies, such as wired and wireless broadband, internet-enabled devices, and applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration.

This is a huge undertaking with momentous implications on the future of the Nation.

Each state has been asked to envision how life there can be transformed by achieving digital equity. As part of their digital equity plans, states have the opportunity to illustrate how ubiquitous, affordable connectivity to reliable, high-speed broadband will benefit communities through increased access to health care, education and job training, economic growth, and civic participation.

With this extraordinary opportunity before state policymakers and local communities in mind, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society launched the Visions of Digital Equity project to aid both in ensuring that more community voices are heard in crafting visions that increase opportunity for all.

We learned that a well-crafted vision of digital equity has the potential to be very powerful. It can:

  • Offer a glimpse of a state transformed by universal connectivity,
  • Provide a roadmap and resources for the digital inclusion efforts to come, and
  • Act as a north star for goal setting, planning, and implementation efforts over the months and years to come.

Through surveys, community meetings, interviews, conversations, and a collaborative writing process with community contributors, we have arrived at a set of principles to help guide both the process and the resulting visions of digital equity.

We hope these principles help the residents in each state evaluate their digital equity plans.

  1. Digital equity is equity and cannot stand outside the broader work of ensuring that everyone has opportunities based on their needs. Without digital equity, communities will continue to face significant barriers in accessing opportunities and vital resources, thereby perpetuating existing inequalities and further widening the digital divide. Digital visions should articulate a commitment to remove barriers and empower the most vulnerable in our communities.
  2. Envision a state transformed by digital equity. Successful digital equity efforts result in healthier, more robust communities and more opportunity for all. Digital equity visions should illustrate how ubiquitous, affordable connectivity to reliable, high-speed broadband will benefit communities through increased access to health care, education and job training, economic growth, and civic participation.
  3. Devising digital equity visions must be an inclusive, collaborative, and ongoing process led by those most impacted by the digital divide, especially communities that have historically suffered from unequal access to broadband. A top-down approach to digital equity visioning, planning, and implementation will not succeed. Digital equity visions, strategies, and approaches, as well as the specific state digital equity plans, must be the result of collaborative exercises that directly engage communities in the planning process with government, broadband providers, philanthropies, and other organizations. These processes must value and center the perspectives of the people digital equity efforts are intended to serve. Without a seat at the table for community members, there can be no equity. This process is about building relationships and trust, authentically engaging the community and addressing any historical issues.
  4. Digital equity planning should include creating and sustaining healthy digital equity ecosystems. Digital inclusion coalitions often include libraries, community-based organizations, local governments, housing authorities, and others in communities across the country. These coalitions organize to cooperatively address equitable access to and use of communication technologies and play a key role in promoting and supporting healthy digital equity ecosystems. Since many of the underconnected face an array of barriers to adoption, relying on ecosystems makes sense to deliver comprehensive, holistic, wraparound services to address complex needs.address complex needs.
  5. Advance and ensure digital safety, privacy, and well-being. Digital equity visions and efforts must center choice, privacy, safety, and digital health at their core, and must empower participants with the tools and skills needed to navigate risks and avoid harms associated with digital environments.
  6. Technology should open opportunities, not create or sustain barriers for people. Digital equity efforts should reduce and remove a full range of barriers through universal design (including multilingual availability) and inclusive access for those with disabilities, which benefits all people and society broadly.
  7. Digital equity efforts must bridge short-term impact and long-term, iterative, and sustainable efforts. Closing the digital divide will not be a one-shot effort; it will be a long-term commitment that should adjust to and reflect changing technology, policy, and circumstances and community needs. Sustained digital equity efforts require short- and long-term key performance indicators as well as periodic assessments of progress.
  8. Network resilience is crucial for ensuring equitable and reliable digital access, enabling sustained digital equity. Networks in all areas must be able to endure various threats to stability, including climate change, disasters, and similar future system stressors.
    • Ethical data collection, interpretation, and use that is adaptive and transparent, and that employs continuous learning practices as well as best practices for informed consent and limits to overcollection and unnecessary retention of data.
    • Shared power approaches such that historically and systemically marginalized groups can hold government and institutions accountable for equitable creation and implementation of the digital equity plans.
    • Going beyond quantitative measures to consider qualitative data and local data collection illustrated through storytelling.
  9. Achieving digital equity requires well-defined metrics for success along with sound measurements and evaluation.
  10. Digital equity visioning and planning requires clear accountability mechanisms and transparent reporting that is widely disseminated. Empowering community members in a transparent process will ensure that principles are adhered to and digital equity funds are spent wisely.

Visions of Digital EquityThese principles are a guide to dreaming big: 1) to envisioning a state transformed by ubiquitous, reliable, affordable, high-speed internet access and 2) to help states “lead with equity,” intentionally identifying, amplifying, and centering the voices of people and disconnected communities most affected by the digital divide.

Let’s make the most of this moment. The best visions of digital equity will be community centered and focused on creating change, specific and clearly articulated, and ambitious but attainable.

For much more on these principles and how we arrived at them, please see the Benton Institute's Visions of Digital Equity 

And if you're interested if your state's vision of digital equity, see

Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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