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Digital Inclusion

Lack of Affordable Internet Disproportionately Impacts Minority Communities, Says Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

Jericho Casper

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Screenshot of Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks from the webinar

July 7, 2020 — “The digital divide is just one of many systematic changes we need to make,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks on a Tuesday webinar centered on achieving nationwide digital equity and inclusion.

The “digital divide” is not a new phenomenon, but one termed almost 25 years ago, Starks said.

“I wanted to introduce new language,” Starks said, adding that he prefers to use the term “internet inequality.”

Internet inequality more accurately describes the division between the broadband privileged and the deprived, as it takes into account the issue of affordability, he said.

“Urban communities are wrapped up with the cost of internet,” Starks said. “Many are being forced to consider the tradeoff between putting food on the table, paying the electricity bill or paying for internet.”

“The pandemic has made clear the disparate impacts on haves and have nots,” he added.

Starks highlighted the digital divide’s disproportionate impact on urban and minority communities, due to the financial cost of connectivity.

“Communities of color do not have the same access as their counterparts,” he said.

Starks described women and people of color as being vulnerable groups, as those demographics are overrepresented in the jobs that now have some of the highest unemployment rates, deeply impacting their sources of income.

When USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter questioned Starks about whether he believes current FCC subsidization programs are up to the task of closing the divide, Starks replied saying that “it is very difficult to create brand new programs — it makes sense to use existing programs.”

However, Starks called for expanding the existing programs, stating that urgent conditions caused by the pandemic call for the action.

“E-rate has to do more,” Starks said. “We know that there are a ton of students not connected right now.”

For example, Starks cited research finding that 90 percent of Detroit public schools’ students do not have internet connectivity.

“The Lifeline Program is also important,” Starks continued, noting the impacts that it has had on keeping individuals connected as the pandemic roars on.

Starks said he was grateful for the Keep Americans Connected Pledge but recognized that companies couldn’t “do it all on their own.”

“Broadband has to be part of the next work by Congress,” Starks said, expressing support for House Majority Whip James Clyburn’s proposed infrastructure bill, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.

“An inclusive America requires a connected America,” Starks said, echoing a long history of promoting these ideals.

Digital Inclusion

Popularity Of Telework And Telehealth Presents Unique Opportunities For A Post-Pandemic World

A survey released earlier this month illustrates opportunities for remote work and care.

Benjamin Kahn

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Screenshot of Hernan Galperin via YouTube

April 20, 2021—A survey conducted by the University of Southern California in conjunction with the California Emerging Technology Fund explored the popularity and availability of opportunities for telework and telehealth in California.

At an event hosted by USC and CETF Monday, experts dissected the survey released earlier this month to explain the implications it may have for the future. Hernán Galerpin is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. He served as the lead investigator for the survey, which analyzed Californians’ attitudes towards their new schedules during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The first statistic Galerpin noted was the extent of broadband growth in California between 2008 and 2021. According to the survey, in 2008, only 55 percent of Californians had broadband coverage. By 2021, the number had risen steeply to 91 percent, with 85 percent of Californian’s utilizing broadband through either a desktop, laptop, or tablet (with the rest connected exclusively through a smartphone).

This is significant because it helps to explain the next statistic Galerpin showed; according to his data, Galerpin stated that approximately 38 percent of employed adults worked remotely five days a week over the course of the pandemic, while 45 percent did not work remotely (17 percent worked between 1-4 days remotely).

When asked how many times they would like to telecommute to work, respondents were most likely to indicate a preference for what they had become accustomed to; those who worked from home five days a week had a 42 percent chance of preferring working from home 5 days a week; those who worked from home three to four days a week had a 35 percent chance of preferring a three to four day telecommute schedule; those who worked remotely one to two days per week had a 56 percent chance of favoring a one to two day telecommuting schedule.

The data collected also indicated that low-income and Hispanic workers were disproportionately unable to telecommute.

Overall, telecommuting five days a week was the most popular option, with 31 percent of total respondents favoring that arrangement. By comparison, only 18 percent of respondents favored a schedule without any telecommuting.

President and CEO of CETF Sunne Wright McPeak called this data “unprecedented,” and stated that broadband had the potential to serve as a “green strategy” that could limit the number of miles driven by employees, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as other harmful pollutants. According to the data, as many as 55 percent of work commutes could be offset by a reconfigured telecommuting schedule.

The benefits of broadband did not stop there, however. Data also indicated that nearly 70 percent of Californians 65 years and older were able to utilize telehealth services, whether that was over the phone/smartphone or computer. Unsurprisingly, wealthier Californians were also more likely to benefit from telehealth services, with nearly 56 percent of low-income Californians going without telehealth, compared to 43 percent of “not low income” Californians.

An additional positive sign was that the overwhelming majority of disabled individuals were able to utilize telehealth services, with 70 percent of disabled respondents indicating that they were able to do so over the course of the pandemic.

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Digital Inclusion

Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events

Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.

Tim White

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Photo of GHS co-founder Victor Zonana, left, from Global Health New Zealand

April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.

Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.

The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.

“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.

Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.

Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.

Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.

Broadband central to digital activities

“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.

President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”

Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.

“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”

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Digital Inclusion

Starry and Non-Profit PCs for People Seek Affordable Connectivity, Affordable Devices and Digital Literacy

Benjamin Kahn

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Photo of Starry Senior Vice President Virginia Adams from Public Knowledge

March 19, 2021—Broadband provider Starry Inc. and the non-profit group PCs for People launched a joint effort aimed at deploying affordable, robust, broadband coverage alongside discounted computer hardware to families living in public housing in Denver, Colorado.

Starry, a fixed wireless broadband provider based in Boston, Massachusetts, operates in 25 states, including Colorado. PCs for people attempts to improve digital inclusion by helping low-come communities secure low-cost internet access and computers.

The two organizations announced a partnership Tuesday to provide subscribers to Starry’s Connect service a $25 coupon that can be redeemed during the purchase of a computing device from PCs for People.

A study published by Pew Research in 2019 stated that 10 percent of Americans do not use the internet. More than half of that demographic stated that they did not use the internet because securing a connection was too difficult or the cost of doing so was prohibitive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue because students and others who utilized internet through schools or libraries were likely unable to access it during parts of the pandemic.

“In order to truly achieve digital equity and inclusion across our communities, we must bring together three critical components: Affordable connectivity, affordable devices and digital literacy,” said Virginia Lan Abrams, senior vice president of government affairs and strategic advancement for Starry.

Abrams said that the joint venture will be a step towards shortening the digital divide. Without affordable connectivity, affordable devices and digital literacy, the internet has less value to low-income households, she said.

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