The Benton Foundation’s Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives by Colin Rhinesmith, Ph.D.

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Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives

This report presents findings from a national study of digital inclusion organizations that help low-income individuals and families adopt high-speed Internet service. The study looked at eight digital inclusion organizations across the United States that are working at the important intersection between making high speed Internet available and strengthening digital skills—two essential and interrelated components of digital inclusion, which is focused on increasing digital access, skills, and relevant content.

The four digital inclusion activities highlighted in this report were reported as being necessary for helping low-income individuals and families adopt broadband in ways that were most appropriate to their personal needs and contexts:

1 Providing low-cost broadband: Cost continues to be a major barrier to broadband adoption. Successful interventions will need to address “ability to pay” rather than “willingness to pay.” While all low-income individuals and families who participated in this study understood the value of broadband connectivity, most explained that cost remained the most significant barrier to adoption. Successful digital inclusion efforts should recognize the role that persistent poverty plays in shaping people’s abilities to access and use computers and the Internet. The findings suggest that more research is needed to understand budgeting issues and other concerns related to people’s experiences living in poverty.

2 Connecting digital literacy training with relevant content and services: Many digital inclusion organizations have developed innovative digital literacy training strategies to assist those who do not feel the Internet is relevant to them as well as those who already understand the importance of the Internet to their everyday lives. Many organizations also provide mobile digital literacy training in which they go outside their physical walls to reach people in places that are convenient to them.

3 Making low-cost computers available: Low-cost or free computers are often just as important as having access to low-cost or free Internet options, particularly for people in low-income communities. Digital inclusion organizations have embraced this reality by refurbishing older computers and making them available to low-income people for free or at a reduced cost. Some digital inclusion organizations also provide ongoing technical support to residents who need the social and technical assistance to keep their computers up and running—and connected online—over time.

4 Operating public access computing centers: Many digital inclusion organizations also maintain public access computing facilities that allow residents to access technology in places in which they feel comfortable and supported. These spaces also complement the digital literacy classes that are often offered in the same location. Low-income individuals and families value public access computing centers because they are often in convenient locations and have helpful staff that provide them with one-on-one support with computers and broadband Internet access.

The goal of this report is to help policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as researchers, practitioners, and other key stakeholders, gain a deeper understanding of how digital inclusion organizations and their community partners can be successful in their efforts to promote meaningful broadband adoption. In addition to the activities highlighted above, this research also notes:

• The importance of citywide and regional initiatives: All of the organizations identified the importance of citywide and regional digital inclusion initiatives and indicated the strength in coming together with other community partners and collaborators to support digital inclusion activities and share best practices. However, funding remains an issue to support these broader digital inclusion coalitions.

• Concerns about program sustainability: No one or mix of commercial providers delivers the full suite of access, computing, and training that non-adopters need to take advantage of the content and services broadband has to offer. Moreover, most organizations that participated in this study expressed a concern that funding for organizations is limited. More funding and support are needed for all organizations in this study that are connecting low-income residents to low-cost Internet, digital literacy training, low-cost computers, and public access computing.

• The need for outcomes-based evaluation: Most of the digital inclusion organizations that participated in this study did not have outcomes-based evaluation frameworks. However, all recognized the importance of having them. One of the surprising findings from the study was the need for outcomes-based evaluation frameworks at both the organizational and citywide/regional levels. This remains a need in many of the organizations studied.

• Digital inclusion and broader policy goals: This report also joins other researchers who have argued that digital inclusion needs to be connected to broader policy issues in order to show the impacts of digital inclusion and meaningful broadband adoption initiatives.

Rhinesmith, Colin. “Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives.” Evanston, IL: Benton Foundation, January 2016. benton.org/broadband-inclusion-adoption-report

 

 

Australia’s Digital Hubs Directory

Australia has been a leader in broadband adoption by creating the Department of Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy.  This government ministry is providing $13.6m USD available in grants to communities to increase broadband adoption and digital inclusion programs.

A component of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), the Digital Hubs Program is an initiative tied to these grants to aid local communities to improve their digital literacy skills and increase their broadband adoption.

The Digital Hubs Directory was created to facilitate communities applying for these NBN grants and organizing digital inclusion initiatives.  This site provides information about the impact of broadband-based solutions regarding topics ranging from health to education, and home uses to business solutions.

This directory allows NGOs and other organizations to add their best practices and broadband-based successes to the growing list that provides detailed information about and how they impact and support Australia’s NBN

Visit the Digital Hubs directory at: http://digitalhubs.aiia.com.au or read more about it at: http://www.newsmaker.com.au/news/11322

The Broadband Commission’s Online Sharehouse

In response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s directive to encourage the UN to meet the millennium Development Goals, The International Telecommunication Union and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.  The Commission’s mission is to advocate for the inclusion of broadband on the international policy agendas and is working to increase broadband access internationally.

One tool that the Broadband Commission has developed is a user-driven database of best practices ranging from case studies to policy recommendations.  This database, the Sharehouse, has over 200 searchable initiatives from reputable organizations such as the Brookings Institution and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.  Each submission is categorized by themes on which the submission touches upon, such as Infrastructure or Policy and Regulation, includes information about the project’s geographical coverage or area reported upon, and other classifying details such as time scale, partners, and points of contact.

The Broadband Commission’s Sharehouse is an outstanding example of how the international community can learn from each other through the stewardship and guidance of the United Nations and other international organizations.  Visit the site at: https://www.itu.int/net/broadband/Sharehouse/Search.aspx

Broadband in Brazil: A Multipronged Public Sector Approach to Digital Inclusion

With 35 million fixed and mobile broadband subscribers, Brazil ranks among the top ten countries worldwide by total number of broadband users. Its large population, however, places the country’s broadband penetration outside the top-50 worldwide. This report explores the challenges, opportunities and successes that define Brazil’s Information and Communication Technology experience.

Regionally, Brazil is slightly above the Latin American average in terms of penetration, but behind Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Speed of access follows a similar pattern – Brazil is better than the regional average, but below US or European levels. Likewise, Brazil has relatively good international fiber connectivity, although it is not as well connected as some of its neighbors. Similarly, prices for telecommunication and broadband access are lower than other countries in the region yet still relatively high compared to North America and Europe, especially outside the major cities. Phones, computer and telecommunication equipment are also significantly higher in cost, partly due to import duties on IT equipment, further reducing affordability of access among the lower-income groups.

In an effort to help to improve coverage and reduce the cost of broadband access, the government has begun a major broadband infrastructure development initiative which has set ambitious targets to triple broadband uptake by 2014. The largest ICT infrastructure project ever carried out in Brazil, called the National Broadband Plan (PNBL), it aims to ensure that broadband access is available to low-income households, especially in areas that have so far been poorly served.

Read the report (pdf): http://www.infodev.org/en/Document.1128.pdf

Read more: http://www.infodev.org/en/Publication.1128.html

Freedom Rings Partnership will bring Internet access, training, and technology to low-income residents of Philadelphia

The Freedom Rings Partnership is a $25 million federally-funded initiative led by the Urban Affairs Coalition and the City of Philadelphia, with Drexel University as a major partner.

The Freedom Rings Partnership is made up of grassroots organizations, government, and universities that will bring Internet access, training and technology to residents in low-income communities.  This multi-year initiative officially kicked off on January 17, 2011 by sponsoring the signature project of the MLK Day of Service – refurbishing used computers to be distributed back into the community, assembling digital literacy kits, and hosting a high-tech scavenger hunt called “Race to Connect.”

“The goal of the Freedom Rings Partnership is to help eliminate the digital divide by enhancing and expanding underserved communities’ knowledge of and access to the Internet so they can acquire information about employment, education, health, and community and economic development, said Matlock-Turner, President and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition. “This project will open doors, enhance lives and create access and job opportunities through technology.”

The Freedom Rings Partnership will reach over 100,000 Philadelphians with information about the importance of broadband to their daily lives; provide hands-on training to 15,000 people at over 130 locations citywide, including 77 public computer centers; and distribute 5,000 “netbooks” to public housing residents who complete technology skills training. Public Computer Centers (PCC) will be located across Philadelphia, primarily in north, south and west Philadelphia.  Locations will include a variety of recreation centers, health and social service organizations, workforce development agencies, and nonprofits. In addition, 4 mobile computer labs will travel throughout the city to provide training and Internet access to underserved communities.

The first Graduation Ceremony for the Freedom Rings Computer Training Program, held Aug. 11, 2011. Each graduate to complete the program walked home with a free Dell netbook computer. Courtesy of GPUAC.

For more information, please visit:

http://www.uac.org/news/uac-launches-freedom-rings-partnership

http://technicallyphilly.com/2011/10/04/can-we-tackle-philadelphia%E2%80%99s-poverty-problem-with-technology-guest-post