Achieving Digital Access for All Matters

Achieving Digital Access for All Matters

Posted on March 04, 2022 by Kiarra Louis, Initiative Support Coordinator with The Patterson Foundation

Many of us are fortunate to regularly connect to reliable, high-speed internet, have a device to access the internet such as a computer, or a laptop, or possess the skills and support to use the internet and our devices. Through the Digital Access for All (DA4A) initiative’s in-depth research and interviews with national thought-leaders in the digital access arena, we’ve learned that connectivity, devices, and skills and support are essential for digital access to be achieved.

Although digital evolution holds boundless possibilities for the future, having digital access is a prerequisite each one of us must have to unlock them. Yet, thousands of households miss out on the new realities and opportunities created by technological advancements. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, about 20 million Americans lack broadband connectivity. Asset-limited, income-constrained, employed (ALICE) families and communities are among the thousands that are either under-connected or not connected at all. The 2018 data obtained from United For ALICE illustrates the percentage of ALICE households within our four-county area.

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The digital access barriers ALICE households experience are significant. These barriers include a lack of awareness of available low-cost plans, a lack of internet access in the area due to little or limited broadband infrastructure, or even a lack of affordability. Cost is often the most limiting factor, especially for ALICE households who often live below or barely above the federal poverty guidelines. According to New America's Cost of Connectivity report, the average monthly cost across all internet plans is $68.38. Since ALICE households struggle to afford basic necessities like food, housing, and healthcare, despite working one or more full-time jobs, affording internet service is a challenge forcing families to make difficult choices.

Although many of us may be connected, it's important to remember that there are those among us who are not. In reality, those who are not connected or under-connected are the people we know and see every day. They are our family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, students, employees, co-workers, grocers, healthcare providers, and the list goes on.

Their lack of access impacts us all. How? Well, think back to March 2020 when COVID-19 forced us all to shift online in ways we may not have thought possible. It reminded us that we live in an age where digital access is the Internet of everything. Major interactions such as education and employment, health and wellness, and social and financial services assume that we're all connected with three essential elements.

At the individual level, digital access enhances or constrains opportunities for participation in our modern society. If your internet is unreliable, imagine how challenging everyday activities become, like checking financial accounts, applying for a job, or doing research for a school assignment. At the community level, digital access is evolving as a measure of community health and vitality. All too often, businesses and organizations promote their vital services and resources online via social media and websites. Yet, many are unaware of those available resources because they lack a device to access them or the skills to navigate them. Lastly, infrastructure and access are baselines for economic competitiveness at the regional level. The digitization, automation, and presence of technology are becoming increasingly prevalent in the workforce. More and more, jobs require employees to have digital skills such as navigating and using different operating systems, experience with social media platforms, and understanding essential software. The need to upskill employees in our workforce is essential to our economic development and competitiveness.

When individuals and families in our community lack one or more of the three essential elements (connectivity, devices, and skills/support), it impacts our ability to thrive socially, intellectually, and economically. With this in mind, DA4A continues to learn and connect with local organizations and governments serving our four-county area (Charlotte, Desoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties) to identify digital access challenges and opportunities for ALICE families. In the spirit of exploration, collaboration, and action, we encourage you to join our efforts to strengthen people, organizations, and communities in the following ways:
  • Join the Digital Access Services Matrix: The Digital Access Services Matrix is a "go-to" resource for organizations to identify digital access resources and partners who can help meet their constituents' needs. Please complete our Digital Access Services survey to have your organization added to the matrix.

  • Attend Our Quarterly Webversations: Our webversations explore ways to increase digital access to families and communities in our four-county region, leverage broadband funding, and identify collaborative possibilities. Email Cheri Coryea, initiative lead, at ccoryea@thepattersonfoundation.org if you're interested in attending. Our next webversation is on April 21, 2022, at 10AM.

  • Join one of Our Collaborative Campfires: Our collaborative campfires are targeted groups working together to elevate digital access in the areas listed below. Email Cheri Coryea at ccoryea@thepattersonfoundation.org if you'd like to join one of the following:
    • Economic Development Leadership
    • Regional Library Directors
    • School District Technology Departments
    • Digital Services Providers
    • Local Government Officials
    • State Office of Broadband
    • National Digital Equity Partners
    • Technology Business Leaders
    • Foundation Partnerships

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