Virginia’s Connected Future: A guide for funders and philanthropists to address digital divides in the Commonwealth

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Virginia has made significant strides to curtail the many facets of the digital divide that exist throughout the Commonwealth. As part of the Virginia Funders Network’s (VFN) efforts to support the Commonwealth’s commitment to achieving universal connectivity by 2024, this memo recommends several steps that funders can perform "now:"

  • Identify your community connectivity needs: Before broadband, planning can begin it is vital to understand the connectivity needs of the community. Surveys are also a good way to connect with a large number of residents and businesses.
  • Identify digital champions: Hosting and organizing listening sessions can also assist funders in locating digital champions in their communities. Digital champions can be anyone interested in, and passionate about, community connectivity.
  • Train digital navigators: Digital navigators are typically employees of an anchor institution (community center, library, school, health care center) who are specifically trained to help users “navigate” the entirety of the connectivity process, from connectivity to devices to skills.
  • Engage in mapping:  Communities often lack insightful maps as to which areas are un- or under-connected. These maps need to be as granular as possible to fully capture the extent of the digital divide. 
  • Engage with elected officials: Funders should identify those elected officials and policymakers interested in broadband and begin conversations about the importance of connectivity. Funders can also help educate elected officials as to the need for broadband.
  • Promote the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP):  Funders can hold information sessions in conjunction with local providers to increase knowledge and drive participation in the ACP. Innovative practices have proven successful in driving broadband awareness.

As well as steps that should be done "next:"

  • Set up partnerships: The future of broadband connectivity, especially in rural areas, will depend on public-private partnerships (P3s). Here, funders can play crucial match-making roles, helping communities identify potential private providers and potential partners.
  • Match grants: Funders may consider this a best practice for ensuring that broadband reaches the most unconnected parts of their communities.
  • Create a Virginia Five-Year Broadband Plan: Communities and counties must be mobilized to participate in the creation of the plan. Communities need to have their voices heard. 
  • Make sure local providers participate: As trusted community organizations, funders can also make sure that all providers in their community are participating in the ACP. This can be done simply by contacting each provider in the community.

Virginia’s Connected Future: A guide for funders and philanthropists to address digital divides in the Commonwealth