Featured Post

Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Digital Divide Planning at the County and State Level

Digital Divide Planning at the County and State Level

As technology adoption is moving at breakneck speed, different organizations are coming to grips with the lack of internet connectivity both in urban and rural settings.   Urban people who are not connected might be living in a connectivity desert, but frequently cost is the most cited factor.  The rural unconnected, though, often face the possibility of no options to connect, even if they wanted to.

The lack of connectivity for a portion of citizens has effects on education, health care, government access, and economic development.  Each sector strives to get people connected, but sometimes there is overlap or simply a lack of coordination.

At a recent Broadband Conference in Oregon, a state legislator mentioned that there could be no "top down approach" to connectivity and that market forces would eventually solve the problem.  Although there is some truth to this statement, local and state governments still need to provide vision and leadership on this critical issue. 

One state worthy of note is New Hampshire.  They are hosting annual digital equity summits which gather together people from many different constituencies.    They are supporting a GenYes cadre of students who help non tech oriented teachers to implement technology in their classrooms, and this is helping with digital literacy and the digital use divide.  Connections are also being made with communities who are working to expand access and with funding sources.   This doesn't necessarily solve the problem in all areas, but a laser like focus on digital equity is helping to move the needle in this state.

In Oregon, the legislature recently approved a pilot program for rural broadband development.  "The Governor’s Office has allocated $500,000 for grant(s) of up to a total of $500,000 from the Strategic Reserve Fund to be available for the support of broadband planning, engineering, and/or infrastructure deployment projects targeting rural and underserved populations (areas that do not have broadband service available at the current FCC designation of 25 million bits per second (Mbps) downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, excluding satellite service)."  This is definitely a good start and will foster innovation in vastly underserved communities, but more systemic planning and vision is needed. 

At the local level, cities are working to address digital equity as well.  Portland Oregon and Multnomah County have a Digital Equity Action Plan.  This effort includes data gathering, long term planning, and an attempt to unify multiply constituents behind a common goal:   "All residents of Portland/Multnomah County will have barrier free access to high-speed broadband internet at home and school, an affordable computing device, and the training to use them effectively."  Portland is a good example of systemic measuring, planning, collaborating, and implementation.

Technology is evolving and radically changing and affecting how people live, work, learn, and survive.  No state or city has found the perfect solution, but addressing the problem is much better than a "wait and see what happens" approach.    As organizations adapt to meet future needs, more discussion and coordination is needed.  States and local governments need to be deliberate in their efforts to provide digital equity.  Providing leadership on this complicated issue is not a "top down" approach.  Rather, it is an important step to making all of our communities more equitable when it comes to internet access.

No comments:

Post a Comment