Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), spoke from the Net Inclusion 2024 stage in Philadelphia on February 14. She outlined a vision for a sustainable future for the digital inclusion field and movement. Watch her speech above and read her vision below.

We have 1,300 people at Net Inclusion 2024 in Philadelphia this week. We’ve secured $2.75 billion from the Digital Equity Act. And this is just the beginning. 

It has to be just the beginning.

We cannot build and scale up amazing digital inclusion programs just to see it all disappear when the federal funding runs dry. 


So How Do We Sustain This Movement?

The answer to sustainability lies in robust digital inclusion ecosystems. They’re the key to HOLISTIC digital inclusion.

Digital equity is the goal, and digital inclusion ecosystems lead us there by weaving together digital inclusion activities happening across your communities. Robust digital inclusion ecosystems evolve with flexibility to meet community needs. Coalitions provide a structure to raise awareness, to collaborate on solutions, and to share the impact of digital inclusion.

If we are strategic now, the $2.75 billion will lead to sustained funding for digital inclusion programs, especially if we continue to prove how effective and impactful these programs are. 

We know the individuals we work with benefit from digital inclusion. But who else benefits when individuals have access to and the ability to use information communication technologies? 


Who’s Ultimately Making Money from Having More People Online? 

  1. The Private Sector: Industry benefits from increased access to their products and a more tech-savvy workforce. The industries that most clearly benefit are healthcare, finance, retail, and technology, but actually, every industry uses technology. So they all benefit. With digital inclusion, people can use telehealth services, banking apps, and e-commerce. The private sector depends on these online activities to reduce costs and increase profits.
  2. The Broadband Industry: Making broadband services affordable and providing supportive services like digital navigation and digital training increases broadband subscriptions. And they have finally figured this out. Internet service providers (ISPs) strongly support the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), digital inclusion programs, and digital navigator programs. The four largest home ISPs have all developed substantial digital inclusion grant programs. Needless to say, they could do more!
  3. Philanthropy:  The pandemic led to widespread recognition that we need digital equity to meet societal needs, but we still need philanthropy to understand just how many of their priorities are impacted by digital inequities. Digital equity should be integrated in all types of philanthropic efforts and organizations. Consider different types of Social Causes: how do people secure housing or a job today? How do they sign up for public support benefits? How do they manage healthcare for a loved one? Internet access and use are essential to the success of philanthropic social-good goals, and incorporating digital inclusion will help their investments have deeper, lasting impacts.
  4. Tribal, Local & State Governments: All of these entities have their own priorities and goals but they all benefit from universal technology use. Equitable access to tech may not be a defined priority but is essential to addressing their existing goals. When residents can renew their driver’s licenses, pay parking fees, and submit unemployment claims online, government agencies reduce their administrative expenses.
  5. The Federal Government: The same reasons as for tribal, local, and state governments apply here. Additionally, they care about the U.S. being globally competitive. The federal government’s $2.75 billion for digital equity is a smart investment with a high return. Residents with home broadband, a computer, and digital skills training have the ability to apply for jobs and participate in online training programs.

Now we know who has a stake in digital inclusion success. How do we get them to invest? 

Perhaps more importantly, how do we help them realize that today’s investment will not be the one-time magic wand flick that permanently closes the digital divide?    

All of us can take action starting tomorrow to help sustain today’s digital inclusion movement. 


These 6 Strategies Will Help Sustain Our Movement and Field


    1. Spread Awareness: We cannot lose the awareness we gained during COVID-19 lockdowns. Awareness efforts must include the positive impacts of digital inclusion solutions—sharing stories of programmatic and individual success. The collective power of coalitions can help communities raise this awareness.
    2. Build Partnerships & Coalitions: Let’s think about ecosystems as our most successful holistic solution. When those who recognize the necessity of digital equity form relationships, partnerships, and digital inclusion coalitions, their messages and programs become stronger and your ability to advocate becomes more powerful. Some local, regional, and state digital inclusion coalitions have already impacted local and state-level decision-making.
    3. Use Data and Analytics Strategically: Our data needs to do more than explain the digital divide. We know it exists. Now we have the challenge of demonstrating how the hard work you do each day on the ground – from broadband service sign ups to device distribution – contributes to the outcomes that resonate with everyone who benefits from your work. This means carefully constructed data collection, program evaluations, and longitudinal studies.
    4. Layer Digital Inclusion with Other Programs: Digital Inclusion can’t stand alone. Intentionally weaving digital equity throughout broadband, health, finance, education, housing, workforce, and other social programs will help increase the lasting impact of investments. Make sure those folks are in your coalitions, involved in the work, and contributing to an equitable future.
    5. Keep Growing an Inclusive Community: Our advocacy has growing power! We hosted the biggest digital inclusion in the world at this year’s Net Inclusion with a record level 1,300 attendees. Let’s keep building on it. To be effective, a broad range of community members need to understand the value of digital equity and have the tools to advocate for community-driven solutions. Diverse voices and people who bring a range of perspectives, lived experiences, and professional skills make the digital equity movement powerful. NDIA is here to serve you all.
    6. Advocating for Ongoing Federal Support


What Are We Advocating For?

We need the following federal policies:

  1. In the short term, Congress should renew funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
  2. In the long term, the Universal Service Fund (USF) should support home AND mobile broadband subscriptions.
  3. Congress should allocate a portion of spectrum auction proceeds to fund ongoing digital inclusion work.
  4. All agencies with permanent funding for broadband deployment should require an integration of broadband adoption strategies and allow funds to be used for digital inclusion.
  5. Finally, what we really need is not a piecemeal solution but a National Digital Equity Plan to ensure that digital inclusion stays in focus while providing direction for ongoing action and sustainability.  

The historic $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act is helping us set the groundwork for long-term digital inclusion solutions. But it doesn’t mean we will “achieve” digital equity when we have fully spent this federal investment. 

Along with death and taxes, we can add another known constant: Technology will keep changing. 

Inequity will still be a frustrating problem. In fact, AI is being developed at rates even faster than previous technological advancements. If we’re not proactive, artificial intelligence will cause the next digital divide. 

As you’re out there building your digital inclusion ecosystems, addressing current digital divides, and preparing for the next ones, you are building your community’s movement. Collectively, across all 50 states, territories, and in dozens of Tribes, we are building sustainability

We are not going anywhere.

This will not be easy. I ask you to find your place in your local digital inclusion ecosystems. Find a coalition. Participate in national advocacy with NDIA. Track your impacts. Share your stories. 

Individually, we cannot sustain this movement. But together, we can build a magic wand that actually works

New to Digital Inclusion? Join the NDIA Community!