Digital Equity/Digital Inclusion
With the common aim of ensuring that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy, each of the 50 states is currently drafting a digital equity plan through what one official called “the largest demonstration of participatory democracy that our country has ever seen." The states are tasked with developing long-term objectives for closing the digital divide by addressing the needs of eight "covered populations"—incl
Digital equity—or, digital opportunity, if you prefer—is having a moment. The US is making an unprecedented investment to ensure that individuals and communities have the capacity to fully participate in our society and economy. 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.
Households in rural America are overcoming significant headwinds as they sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) benefit at a higher rate than urban counterparts. Through April 2023, ACP enrollment data shows that: 15% of all rural households have enrolled in ACP and 14% of households in metro or urban areas have enrolled in the benefit. Even this modest difference is striking given the tensions that buffet rural residents as they consider enrolling in ACP.
Dleł Taaneets is the traditional name of my hometown of Rampart; it means “the hanging moose hide,” which the bluffs near our village mimic in color. My ancestors survived on these lands by following the lifeways of the season: spruce tips and birds in spring, salmon and plants in the summer, berries and moose in winter, trapping in the winter. Living off the lands of Alaska is unforgiving due to extreme weather, but my lineage endured and thrived by maintaining respect for one another, having gratitude to the animals and plants, and honoring the gorgeous lands that sustained them.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is at an inflection point. Launched in early 2022, ACP provides 17 million households up to $30/month in subsidies to offset the cost of broadband. But the program faces two critical challenges. First, less than a third of eligible households currently participate in the program—mainly because the people who could benefit most from the subsidy are unaware that it exists. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), local governments, and digital equity groups are stepping up efforts to improve ACP awareness and participation.
After a year of operation, half of all households eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) internet subsidy are unaware of the benefit. A January 2023 survey of low-income households finds that over 50% say they have never heard of the program or do not know anything about it. Although many eligible households are unaware of ACP, the survey points to ways in which policymakers and community leaders can encourage enrollment. First, outreach can make a difference.
Fitting the monthly cost of a broadband subscription into a low-income household budget is difficult, to say the least, because of the costs of competing necessities like lodging, food, and healthcare. These financial pressures—and unexpected expenses—keep too many people in the U.S. from subscribing to home broadband service—or cause them to drop service at times to make ends meet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress recognized these obstacles for low-income people and created a program—first called the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program—to reduce the monthly costs of connectivity.
The pandemic spurred policymakers and community leaders around the country to create programs to connect those without home broadband service or computers. These programs have had an impact. New government data show sharp increases in broadband and computer adoption in the 2019-to-2021 time frame. Initiatives such as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) have helped address “subscription vulnerability” for low-income households. With progress evident, it is time to extend and build on the ACP and local affordability programs.
Over the last two years, in California and across the country, billions of public dollars have been allocated to end the digital divide. The Digital Equity LA coalition, supported by the California Community Foundation (CCF) Digital Equity Initiative, has mobilized to ensure these investments are directed to the communities that need them most—those that have been historically marginalized and are disproportionately disconnected—and deployed in support of the most effective long-term solutions.
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded 28 grants totaling $74,424,986.73 to 28 Tribal entities as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP). Grants were made to tribes in Alaska, Arizona, California, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.