Thanks to the Benton Foundation, Casey Sorensen of NDIA Affiliate PCs for People and I spoke on a Senate Briefing panel sponsored by Georgetown’s Institute for Public Representation and the Benton Foundation in cooperation with Senator Richard Blumenthal. The briefing was entitled “Understanding Digital Inclusion & Broadband Adoption”.  Here is what I said:

NDIA was formed, in part, to ensure on-the-ground practitioners had a voice in federal discussions. And here Casey and I am, participating in a Senate briefing. Success!

Digital Literacy training and support is essential. Our experience on the ground mirrors Colin Rhinesmith’s analysis. Increasing access and use of technology requires more than low-cost internet offers (and yes, that piece is VERY important). To increase technology access and use among the disconnected, we need low-cost devices, low-cost service plus a continuum of digital literacy training and support. The support part is crucial. Most of us in this room have someone we go to for technical support. Or, we are that person for our family and friends. For folks who do not have that support, a device can easily end up a dust collector.

The local solutions are as varied as the populations they serve. There is no one size fits all solution to broadband adoption. The digital needs of each of us vary. Increasing meaningful use of technology – use that is empowering and changes lives – is very different depending upon our needs and our starting point. The outreach, curriculum and support for a blueberry farmer in Maine learning how to use technology to support his/her business is quite different from the outreach, curriculum and support for low-income adults learning how to apply for jobs online and communicate with his/her kids’ teachers.

We need federal support for local digital equity solutions. To support those local solutions, we need help from the federal government. This help can come in the form of low-cost broadband service (such as Lifeline), dedicated programs in federal agencies (such as ConnectHome in HUD) plus modernized programs in federal agencies (such as HHS providing grant funds to clinics to increase patient use of personal health records). The local solutions need financial support and partnerships with schools, libraries, local government and state and federal agencies.

Net Inclusion 2016: The National Digital Inclusion Summit. We welcome you all to continue these conversations with us in Kansas City, May 18-19.

Big thanks to Michael Liimatta for this photo taken during the Senate briefing on February 21, 2016. Big thanks to Michael Liimatta for this photo taken during the Senate briefing on February 21, 2016.

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