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Digital Inclusion

Digital Equity Includes Clear Messaging And Training, Experts Argue

Experts argued for clearer communications and training for Americans not used to connectivity.



Hannah Hill of Boston Consulting Group

May 14, 2021 — Lost in the rhetoric of connecting Americans to crucial high-speed internet is what it takes to connect people who don’t have experience with the technology that many take for granted, experts on a webinar argued Wednesday.

Policy decisions often only emphasize the need to connect large swaths of underconnected areas, but seldom talk about the critical issue of communicating how to get connected, argued panelists at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

“If you are someone who lives in poverty in this country, you experience all kinds of friction,” said Bret Perkins, senior vice president of external and government affairs at Comcast. “And none of this is simple—those of us who live in this, we tend to oversimplify what it takes to sign up, what it takes to get on board, and we just have to understand that more and deal with the friction.”

The pandemic has increased attention on the digital divide, and the panelists called for clearer communications to reduce friction points to get the less-fortunate connected.

Connectivity issues must be addressed with consumer-focused lens

Hannah Hill, project leader at Boston Consulting Group, emphasized the importance of approaching problems with a consumer-focused lens, pointing out key factors in potential solutions such as effective communication.

“How can you explain the message clearly, not using technical jargon or terms, making it very clear about the terms in a way that is clear but not overwhelming?” she said. “And how can you share those messages through trusted channels—community organizations, educators, faith-based organizations, civic groups…How can you send trusted messages through trusted sources?”

Effective communication requires having a multilingual, multicultural view, said Daniel Noyes, co-CEO of Tech Goes Home. That includes “making sure you have multilingual phone lines that are properly staffed.”

Hill said companies should find ways to streamline the application process and ensure that support is always readily available.

“That comes back to the community organizations—in our research, more than 40 percent of respondents said that they wanted someone to walk them through the process step by step,” she said. “It was the most requested support that would make the program easier, and so being able to enable these organizations so that they can offer that support and assistance is key.”

Transparency around cost also key

Noyes also highlighted the importance of clear messaging with respect to cost. “If it costs $10 a month on your ad, it better cost $10 a month when the bill comes,” he said. “If the modem costs $15 a month and you say your service is $20 a month, but it’s actually $35 a month, you’re doing a disservice to the people you serve.”

Noyes noted that having internet access does not equate to being able to afford it.

“I had a conversation with someone no more than a month ago who said, ‘I have the internet, but the only way I have it for my kids is I take half the prescription medication I’m supposed to take, because that allows me to pay for the internet,’” he said. “So it’s not just closing out those who don’t have it, it’s also dealing with people who have it but can’t afford it.”

Heather Tsavaris, principal consultant at the Columbus Foundation, said she contemplated certain questions when addressing how to connect Columbus.

“As we thought about it and as we really went deep with people and did the qualitative empathy work, we refined that to move to, ‘How might we ensure people experiencing poverty can use technology in all the ways they want to and need to?’—really thinking about that value proposition and that relevancy.”

The pillars of an effective connectivity strategy

Lloyd Levine, a senior policy fellow at the U.C. Riverside School of Public Policy, pointed to three primary areas in which internet equity is important: economy, education and equal access to government and quasi-government services.

“Data shows that those who use computing devices to find jobs get jobs faster, they get promotions quicker, they keep their jobs longer, [and] if you use a mobile phone exclusively, you suffer harms at almost the same rate as people who have no access at all,” he said.

Unequal internet access leads to several such issues, Levine added, including barriers to doing well in school and applying to college as well as lack of access to telehealth and government services.

Levine said you can’t simply dust your hands after providing access to devices, but you must follow-through to ensure they know how to use them.

“You’ve got to set up an administrative side that says we’re about to give computers and internet service theoretically to a bunch of people who don’t have high tech skills,” Levine said. “[We need] devices that are purpose-built that are less likely to have somebody downloading malicious things that would then cause them problems later on, that are less likely to crash as you’re trying to do an essential project.”

In addition, Hill noted that companies need to be constantly researching and collecting data to make sure that they are continually assessing “who’s connected, who’s not and why, and how we can come together and create scalable products or scalable programs to address that.”

Part of this continual reassessment involves ensuring that problems are framed in a way that best serves consumers, Tsavaris said.

Perkins agreed, suggesting that providers broaden their approach and outlook.

“Yes, we want to have networks in front of everybody’s homes, yes, we want to get them all online, but there’s a tendency to stop short in thinking about, ‘What is it to be equitable here for people to live in the 21st century and to thrive?’ he said. “And for that, we’ve got to see it as [that] we want them connected [and] we want them to be able to use this with skill, and that requires a whole different mindset in terms of how we approach this.”

How government and regulators can get involved

In order to take the final steps in closing the digital divide, Levine said that he would like to see the FCC more specifically target access for low-income people.

“I’d like to see a collaborative approach where the government partners with the providers to ensure the provision of low-income people, whether it’s the way I mentioned earlier with a collective bargaining situation or a different provision,” he said. “Right now, it doesn’t work because there’s no real top-down leadership.”

Levine concluded that any legislation attempting to make the final push to close the digital divide will need to involve more than just internet availability.

“It’s not just about the broadband when the policymakers are passing these pieces of legislation…it’s a lot of work to connect the last people that are disconnected, whether it’s deploying in rural areas or it’s connecting those who are reluctant for whatever reason,” he said. “And if we just focus on the physical pipes, the infrastructure, we’re missing a huge component.”

Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.

Digital Inclusion

Debra Berlyn: Creating a Path to Close the Digital Divide for Older Adults

Programs like the ACP and technologies like fixed wireless can play a key role in connecting older adults.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Debra Berlyn, Executive Director of Project GOAL.

Today, three-year old Max wants to get on the family computer and see his Grammy on the other side of the country, but she could be one of the approximately 34 percent of those age 65 and older who still aren’t connected to the internet at home.

When it comes to getting connected to the internet, older adults continue to remain an isolated and unserved demographic across the country. There’s more work that remains to be done to get older adults connected to the internet. It’s time to get creative and expand the effort for broadband everywhere to everyone.

There’s an unprecedented wave of federal funding for broadband expansion on the horizon. The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment effort is underway and will soon roll-out the $42.5 billion allocated by Congress to expand high-speed internet access across all fifty states and U.S. territories.

Pair this with several industry discount programs to choose from and there may finally be a real opportunity to drive broadband access and adoption and start to close the digital divide for older adults.

Affordable broadband

For older adults with the greatest need, there’s one federally funded program that has had a significant impact on connecting the community to broadband: the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Congress appropriated $14.2 billion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 for the ACP program to provide eligible lower-income households with up to a $30 monthly subsidy. About twenty internet service providers (including large ISPs AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter and some smaller providers) offer a high-speed, high-quality internet service plan for no more than $30 dollars per month for those that qualify.

So, for these households leveraging ACP, which include millions of older adults, they apply their monthly $30 benefit to a plan and access the internet, essentially for free.

To date over 17 million households have signed up for ACP. Over 45 percent of ACP subscribers are age 50 years and older, and over 20 percent of the ACP recipient households are age 65 and older.

This program is truly one of the most important programs for assisting those in need and has finally provided the aging community the opportunity to receive the benefits of broadband.

While new qualified households continue to subscribe to ACP, time is running out for available funding of this important program. With the current number of household subscribers and continued growth, it’s estimated that the ACP will run out as early as the first half of 2024. Congress must consider options now for continuing funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The ACP is an essential program for customers who require a subsidy to acquire or retain broadband service. For many others who may live in areas currently unserved or underserved, or who still haven’t adopted broadband service in a community, there are now new technologies for internet growth.

New approaches

One technology has upped the competitive marketplace in the home for consumers: fixed wireless internet service.  Internet service providers such as AT&T and Verizon, and wireless carriers such as T-Mobile, offer customers an alternative for accessing internet service.

It’s a type of 5G or 4G LTE technology to enable fixed broadband access using radio frequencies (instead of the cables used to wire traditional wired fixed-line broadband) from the home.  Fixed wireless internet service has opened a competitive field for internet service in many communities.

Satellite internet is another interesting approach for the provision of service. Starlink has offered high speed, low latency internet, primarily in limited rural areas, but upfront costs can be on the expensive side. Now, Amazon is entering this market with Project Kuiper to provide fast, affordable broadband service around the world.

It is planning to do this by deploying thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit linked to a global network of antennas, fiber and internet connection points on the ground. Amazon expects to begin delivering broadband connections in late 2024.

The deployment plan has an interesting strategy, with a key Amazon delivery objective of bringing affordable, high-speed connectivity to all consumers. Project Kuiper will offer low-cost and easy-to-install antennas (also known as “terminals) to make the service affordable. The plan can help connect older adults in unserved, and underserved areas of the country, particularly rural communities, and other remote areas without reliable connectivity.

Now, with the ACP offering an opportunity for affordable broadband, the BEAD roll-out, fixed wireless providing competitive broadband services and satellite internet service competition with Project Kuiper on the horizon, we are on the right track to close the digital divide for older adults.

Debra Berlyn is the Executive Director of the Project to Get Older Adults onLine (Project GOAL), which works to promote the adoption of broadband for older adults, and to advance technology applications for the community. She is also president of Consumer Policy Solutions, is on the board of the National Consumers League, and is a board member and senior fellow with the Future of Privacy Forum. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Learn How to Speak About Broadband, Say State Directors and Advocates at Connect (X)

Speaking simply will improve community engagement in digital inclusion efforts.



Photo of Keith Moore of the Minority Business Development Agency, Edyn Rolls of the Oklahoma Broadband Office, Valarry Bullard of the New Jersey Broadband Office, Scott Woods of Broadband Ready

NEW ORLEANS, May 12, 2023 – How we speak about broadband when talking to consumers while deploying digital equity programs is very important, said state broadband directors at a Connect (X) panel on Wednesday.  

Community residents face significant barriers to adoption that may turn them off to programs meant to benefit them, including the Affordable Connectivity Program which subsidizes high-speed internet subscriptions for low-income households. 

These communities have been historically overlooked by governments and do not trust officials to have their best interests at heart, said Courtney Richard of nonprofit affordable housing development corporation, National CORE. 

As state officials, we need to do all we can to connect with the residents and make the experience as comfortable for them as possible, said the Director of the New Jersey Broadband Office Valarry Bullard. For example, instead of saying “broadband,” officials should say “internet.” 

Locally owned businesses and households need to understand how the internet impacts them individually, and our job is to draw that connection for them, Bullard said. “For us, an opportunity is going to be education.”  

Knowing how to speak about broadband with communities that we work in is an essential piece of the puzzle that can serve to complicate the process if not handled well, said Scott Woods, vice president of community engagement and strategic partnership at 

“You can turn off a community by your simple approach,” said Woods. States must go by the overarching notion that the federal government has put broadband deployment in the hands of states because they understand the needs of the communities, he added.  

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Broadband's Impact

Digital Inclusion Requires Localized Approach and Partnerships with Community Members

There can be no standardization of digital equity approaches, agree panelists.



Photo of Courtney Richard

HOUSTON, May 10, 2023 – Achieving digital inclusion requires a localized approach with states involving trusted members of communities, said panelists at a Broadband Communities event Thursday. 

Each population subset will respond differently to inclusion efforts and, among those subsets, different households will need to address different barriers to adoption, said Courtney Richard of nonprofit affordable housing development corporation, National CORE.  

Standardizing digital inclusion efforts on any level is nearly impossible, agreed Bryan Mauk from PCs for the People. Unserved and underserved communities have specific concerns that service providers and state governments need to understand before deploying to those areas, he said. 

Human, one-on-one interaction with these communities is necessary to both understand their needs and build trust, added Richard. These communities have been historically overlooked by governments and do not trust officials to have their best interests at heart, she said.  

A lack of trust evolves the way in which you educate and approach the residents, said Richard Sherwin, CEO of provider, SpotOn networks. Trust is a critical issue and “has to be done just right.” 

Richard urged service providers and state governments to form relationships and partnerships with those people and institutions that are already trusted in the community. We see more success in areas where partnerships were formed and community anchor institutions are involved, she continued. 

States have increasingly adopted the digital navigator’s program which deploys state employees to communities with the purpose of improving adoption rates by training residents on device usage, said Richard. Messengers are most beneficial when they are members of the community that can mediate the conversation between parties and help communities find solutions that work best for them, she continued. 

These programs require human capital and continuous training of the digital navigators to be up to date on technology advancements, added Mauk. 

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