A Voyage to Digital Equity in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, March 29, 2024

Weekly Digest

A Voyage to Digital Equity in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of March 25-39, 2024

Grace Tepper

The Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands (CNMI) Broadband Policy & Development (BPD) Office released its draft Digital Equity Plan, A Voyage to Digital Equity in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. In the dynamic landscape of the digital age, where information and opportunities surge like currents across the Marianas Trench, the concept of digital equity emerges as CNMI's northern star. Embracing the rich heritage of CNMI's traditional art of island navigation, this plan emerges as the compass, guaranteeing fair and inclusive access for every resident of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth's Vision for Digital Equity

The vision of the CNMI Broadband Policy and Development Office is to:

Be the compass that navigates CNMI's voyage into the new digital world where digital affordability, accessibility, and adaptability are a common wealth for all.

The CNMI Broadband Policy and Development Office is dedicated to advancing the realization of CNMI's Digital Equity Vision, specifically designed to meet the unique needs of the region. This vision navigates the CNMI towards a comprehensive and context-specific understanding of "digital equity,” aiming to identify challenges and mobilize resources to help overcome the ocean of the digital divide, ensuring that all individuals of the CNMI possess the essential tools and knowledge to be successful in their voyage into the digital landscape.

Covered Populations and Barriers to Digital Equity

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands faces a few challenges in achieving digital equity due to its location, diverse population, and vulnerability to natural disasters in the rapidly changing digital landscape. The islands are situated in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean around 3,700 miles west of Hawaii and 1,300 miles from Japan. Providing equal access to digital resources and technologies is a significant challenge. Additionally, the CNMI is susceptible to typhoons and other natural disasters that can disrupt transportation and communication.

To address these challenges, the CNMI BPD Office must prioritize the digital equity needs of all individuals living on the islands, recognizing the importance of inclusive access to broadband technology and resources. With a population of approximately 47,329 people, most residents live on three islands, namely Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, while some live in the northern islands, making all CNMI residents rural inhabitants according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) definition of a covered population. Regardless of their location or background, it is essential to prioritize digital equity for all residents.

The 2020 Island Areas Censuses provided valuable insights into technology usage, capturing data on computer and internet use. Among all households in CNMI, 96.7 percent possessed at least one type of computer, and 84.0 percent had a broadband internet subscription. Further exploration into computing devices revealed that out of the total of 13,810 individuals with one or more types of computing devices, 8,684 owned desktops or laptops. Interestingly, 13,556 individuals owned smartphones, and 6,888 had tablets or other portable wireless computers.

In terms of internet subscriptions, data indicated that out of 12,012 households with an internet subscription, the majority (11,336) relied on cellular data plans, with 3,210 exclusively using this type of plan. Additionally, 8,605 households had broadband such as cable, fiber optic, or DSL, with 641 having no other type of internet subscription. A smaller number (151) utilized satellite internet service, with only 1 relying solely on this type. Thirteen households reported having other services with no additional internet subscription.

Despite these technological trends, 730 households had internet access without a subscription, and 1,540 households reported having no internet access at all. These statistics highlight the diverse technology landscape within CNMI, reflecting variations in connectivity and device usage across the community.

The percentages of each covered population out of the total CNMI population are as follows:

  • Individuals in Low-Income Households: 38 percent
  • Aging Individuals (also known as Manamko in Chamorro): 5.9 percent
  • Incarcerated Individuals: 0.5 percent
  • Veterans: 2.2 percent
  • Individuals with Disabilities: 9.5 percent
  • Individuals with a Language Barrier: 35.2 percent
  • Individuals who are Members of a Racial or Ethnic Minority Group: 90.56 percent
  • Individuals who Primarily Reside in a Rural Area: 100 percent

Digital Equity Principles and Objectives

As CNMI formulated its strategy, BPD identified three core principles encapsulated in the "3 A's": Affordability and Accessibility, and Adaptability. These overarching principles align with the comprehensive framework of the draft Digital Equity Plan, which comprises our five key pillars: Health Outcomes, Educational Outcomes, Economic and Workforce Development, Essential Services, and Civic and Social Engagement.

Objective: Availability and Affordability of Broadband for All Covered Populations

Strategy: Establish Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs) across the CNMI to enable residents to access free internet.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

  • Baseline: No CAIs currently established.
  • Near-term: Establish 5 CAIs across the CNMI by 2026.
  • Long-term: At least 10 CAIs across the CNMI will be established by 2030.

Strategy: Develop a Digital Navigator Program to provide technical assistance advisors for digital skills training and assistance.


  • Baseline: No digital navigator programs currently exist.
  • Near-term: Establish 5 digital navigator programs across the CNMI by 2026.
  • Long-term: At least 50 digital navigators across the CNMI will be trained by 2030.

Strategy: Develop community digital literacy workshops in collaboration with local agencies and educational institutions.


  • Baseline: To be determined.
  • Near-term: Develop at least 4 digital literacy training programs by 2027.
  • Long-term: Provide quarterly digital literacy workshops to community members throughout 2030.

Objective: Cybersecurity and Privacy Awareness

Strategy: Create and distribute educational resources on cybersecurity best practices and privacy protection measures.


  • Baseline: No educational resources or programs currently exist.
  • Near-term: Create and distribute educational materials through print and social media on cybersecurity protection by 2025.
  • Long-term: Develop marketing and awareness campaign to educate the community about cybersecurity protection and community workshops by 2026.

Strategy: Ensure that technology distribution programs require participants to attend cybersecurity and privacy workshops.


  • Baseline: No existing data.
    Long-term: All individuals participating in the distribution program must attend a cybersecurity and privacy workshop.

Objective: Inclusive and Accessible Online Public Resources

Strategy: Partner with government agencies to ensure compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidance (WCAG) and promote user experience.


  • Baseline: To be determined
  • Long-term: All government agencies will be in compliance of WCAG.

Strategy: Connect Technical Assistance Advisors with government agencies to promote online public resource best practices.


  • Baseline: To be determined
  • Long-term: Digital navigator program will include training and support for online government services.

Strategy: Enhance accessibility features of government websites and mobile applications, including text-to-speech and captioning options.


  • Baseline: To be determined
  • Long-term: All government websites will be accessible to all individuals with special needs.

Objective: Availability and Affordability of Consumer Devices and Technical Support

Strategy: Offer free or subsidized access to technology and internet for those who cannot afford it.


  • Baseline: To be determined
  • Long-term: By 2027, all individuals who cannot afford technology or the internet will participate in the program.

Strategy: Provide devices at CAIs.


  • Baseline: No CAIs currently exist.
  • Long-term: All community members will have access to necessary digital devices to utilize digital technology at CAIs.

Implementation Strategy and Key Activities

This section delineates the CNMI’s comprehensive approach to bridging the digital divide. The ensuing strategies and key activities specifically target BPD's objectives related to the plan's essential pillars, while addressing the impediments to digital equity. These implementation strategies are responsive to the existing broadband landscape and the obstacles impeding widespread adoption. These strategies concentrate on enhancing affordability, facilitating access to devices, nurturing digital skills, providing technical support, and streamlining digital navigation.

Health Implementation Strategies

Objective: Telehealth Network

Key Activities:

  • Initiate discussions with telehealth and telecommunications providers to establish a robust telehealth network connecting Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and the Northern Islands.
  • Implement a secure and reliable communication infrastructure for telehealth consultations.


  • Number of telehealth consultations conducted through the network each month.
  • Percentage of successful telehealth consultations conducted without any technical issues.

Objective: Devices for Healthcare Providers

Key Activities:

  • Procure and distribute necessary telehealth devices to healthcare providers across the islands.
  • Provide training programs for healthcare professionals on the effective use of telehealth equipment.


  • Number of healthcare providers using telehealth devices in their practice.
  • Percentage of healthcare professionals who have completed the training program and are confident in using the telehealth equipment.

Objective: Telehealth Literacy Programs

Key Activities:

  • Develop and implement telehealth literacy programs at technology centers to educate the public on the benefits and usage of telehealth services.
  • Conduct community outreach programs to ensure widespread awareness and participation.


  • Number of individuals who have completed the telehealth literacy program.
  • Percentage increase in the number of individuals using telehealth services after the community outreach program.

Education and Workforce Development Implementation Strategies

Objective: Collaboration with PSS

Key Activities:

  • Form a working group with at least one representative from each school district to assess the current IT/CS curriculum.
  • Develop a comprehensive IT/CS core curriculum that aligns with industry standards and emerging technologies.
  • Conduct at least two workshops and training sessions for educators in a year to help them effectively integrate the new curriculum.


  • Number of representatives from each school district joining the working group.
  • Percentage of alignment of the new curriculum with industry standards and emerging technologies.
  • Number of educators attending the workshops and training sessions.

Objective: Enhancing IT Career Paths

Key Activities:

  • Collaborate with at least five high schools to introduce specialized IT career paths, including internships and mentorship programs with local industry partners.
  • Conduct at least five awareness campaigns and workshops in a year to inform students and parents about the potential of IT careers and the skills required.


  • Number of high schools collaborating and offering specialized IT career paths.
  • Number of students participating in internships and mentorship programs.
  • Number of attendees in the awareness campaigns and workshops.

Objective: Digital Navigator Program

Key Activities:

  • Develop the digital navigator program and implement it in at least three schools.
  • Establish partnerships with at least three local businesses to offer real-world projects and experiences for students.
  • Assist at least five students with job placement who participate in the Digital Navigator Program within a year.


  • Number of schools implementing the digital navigator program.
  • Number of partnerships with local businesses established.
  • Number of students who receive assistance with job placement.

Community Anchor Institutions Implementation Strategies

Objective: Establishing CAIs

Key Activities:

  • Identify at least 5 suitable locations for the establishment of CAIs.
  • Acquire all necessary infrastructure, equipment, and personnel to ensure the functionality of the technology centers.
  • Develop a standardized curriculum for technology centers that aligns with the needs of the local community.


  • Number of suitable locations identified for the establishment of CAIs.
  • Percentage of required infrastructure, equipment, and personnel acquired.
  • Feedback from the local community on the standardized curriculum developed for the technology centers.

Inter-Agency Coordination Implementation Strategies

Objective: Enhance and support emergency response and preparedness for vulnerable populations such as individuals with disabilities and language barriers.

Key Activities:

  • Enhance emergency response and preparedness.
  • Ensure that critical emergency information and resources are accessible to all residents.
  • Prioritize assistance and support for vulnerable populations.
  • Proactively engage with vulnerable populations, including the community and local agencies, offering targeted training, awareness campaigns, and support services.


  • Number of individuals with disabilities and language barriers who voluntarily register on the website supportcnmi.com.
  • Percentage of emergency responders and CERT teams who use the voluntary registry to prioritize assistance and support for vulnerable populations during crisis situations.
  • Percentage of at-risk populations who are identified through the mapping system and receive targeted training, awareness campaigns, and support services.
  • Number of mobile applications or collaborations with existing websites developed to promote public awareness and engagement in emergency preparedness efforts.
  • Number of emergency situations where critical emergency information and resources were accessible to all residents, regardless of their background or abilities.

Send your Feedback to the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Broadband Policy and Development Office is seeking public comment on its draft Digital Equity Plan until April 6, 2024. Comments can be submitted using the public comment form or via email at cnmi.bpd@gmail.com.

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