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

 

 

Public Policy Framework Helps Provide Direction for Libraries Regarding Digital Inclusion

The Institute of Museum and Library Services, the University of Washington Information School, and the International City/County Management Association have developed a comprehensive framework to help libraries identify, evaluate, and improve services regarding digital inclusion and digital literacy.  More and more individuals without computer access at home are turning to libraries as a conduit to access the Internet.

The document, “Building Digitally Inclusive Communities,” is the product of over 100 organizations’ comments and ideas.  The document highlights five important principles: Availability and affordability, public access, accessibility for people with disabilities, adoption and digital literacy, and consumer education and protection.

The document provides high-level guidance to furthering the digital inclusion discussion in local communities and directs readers to additional helpful resources.

View the document at: http://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/DIC-FrameworkGuide.pdf or read more about it at: http://www.nlc.org/news-center/nations-cities-weekly/articles/2011/july/new-icma-resource-facilitates-digital-inclusion-in-local-libraries

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