II. Empower Communities

Digital equity is the product of digital equity ecosystems—that is, the interactions between individuals, populations, communities, and their larger socio-technical environments that all play roles in shaping the digital inclusion work in local communities to promote more equitable access to technology and social and racial justice. Digital equity is not the responsibility of broadband providers or governments alone. All players must understand the local, cultural drivers and social barriers to broadband adoption while taking ownership of the solutions in addressing these barriers.

Communities themselves should be the ones identifying community needs. Government officials must devote time and resources to authentic outreach to the people and communities who are most profoundly impacted by inequity, paying attention to the needs they identify. In order to accomplish this and do so with the level of trust that will be required, government officials should engage (and compensate) community leaders in facilitating ongoing conversations and holistic, considerate, inclusive input gathering. The importance of this cannot be overstated. The people and communities who are intended to be served by digital equity programs must be engaged in setting goals and evaluating efforts.

With this in mind, we offer the following principles:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.