June 23, 2021– A new campaign launched by Black churches aims to bridge the digital divide by getting the word out about how to get better broadband.
Black churches are more than spiritual gathering places: They are power centers within the Black community. Now, the #BlackChurches4Broadband coalition aims to find a permanent solution to the impact that the digital divide is having upon communities of color.
The group, a product of the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council, is particularly focusing on making sure that the African-American community is aware of the Federal Communication Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit.
The Pew Research Center released the results of a survey in late February that said about three-quarters of Black adults say predominantly Black churches have done either “a great deal” (29%) or “some” (48%) to help Black people move toward equality in the United States.
Black churches see and touch more Black people than any other organization, said Bishop Leah Daughtry, co-founder of the Black Church PAC, speaking at a June 14 panel hosted by MMTC.
Speakers at the panel compared their faith-based campaign to Martin Luther King Jr., an ordained Baptist minister, and the Muslim Malcolm X’s use of churches and mosques as mobilization centers to equip African Americans with political information and political activism.
Broadband as a civil rights issue
Before his death in July 2020, Georgia Congressman John Lewis said, “access to the Internet is the civil rights issue of the 21st Century.”
Panelists including Fallon Wilson, MMTC vice president. described difficulties congregations faced during the pandemic, including being locked out of opportunities to worship, work from home, or complete school work. The campaign reported on their website that only 71% of Black families have broadband internet service at home.
But speakers also said that, in addition to the resources of the temporary EBB, they want more than just a temporary fix, but a permanent solution to the problems of broadband access.
The current broadband emergency did not start with COVID-19, said Wilson, but COVID has highlighted it.
FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, joined by the civil rights leaders, explained, “Our historic failure to close the digital divide has had a devastating effect on communities of color in both rural and urban America.”
On the importance of getting neighbors and friends to sign up for the EBB, Nicol Turner Lee said, “we want to guide Black church leaders towards educating their congregations and communities about this broadband initiative.”
The EBB program provides discounts for broadband services and devices to families struggling to stay connected during the pandemic.
The coalition’s strategy was to go to where people trust in their communities, their house of worship. During the pandemic, many churchgoers saw benefits of being connected through the internet even when they couldn’t worship together in person.
White House Presses Outreach Initiatives for Affordable Connectivity Program
White House officials urged schools and other local institutions to engage in text-message and social media campaigns for the ACP.
WASHINGTON, September 15, 2022 – The White House on Monday urged schools and other local institutions to engage in text-message and social media campaigns, PSAs, and other community-outreach initiatives to promote enrollment in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program among of families with school-age children.
The Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes internet service bill for low-income households. Monthly discounts of up to $30 are available for non-tribal enrollees, $75 for applicants on qualifying tribal lands. In addition, the ACP offers enrollees a one-time discount $100 on qualifying device purchases.
To boost ACP enrollment, speakers encouraged schools to reach out directly to families. Bharat Ramanurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said text-message campaigns drive up enrollment in government programs. A Massachusetts text-message campaign doubled ACP enrollment rates in subsequent days, said Ramanurti.
Also highlighted was the administration’s “ACP Consumer Outreach Kit,” which provides partners with resources, including fliers, posters, audio PSAs, social-media templates.
In fact, many of these tactics have proved effective in increasing ACP enrollment among telehealth patients. In addition, Microsoft and Communications Workers of America recently announced a circuit of ACP sign-up drives in that will tour several states including Michigan, New York, and North Carolina.
Political considerations as November nears…
As students go back to school and midterm elections loom, new ACP sign-ups could benefit the enrollees as well as the Democrats’ political chances.
Public officials and private experts alike recognize the value of community involvement in extending broadband connectivity and digital literacy nationwide. Marshaling community institutions – like schools – to maximize broadband access could help Biden and other Democrats overcome inflation-driven electoral headwinds in the November midterms. The White House obtained commitments from 20 providers to offer high-speed internet plans for $30 per month or less to ACP-eligible households – this means no out-of-pocket costs for recipients of ACP discounts. Free broadband coverage could bring the administration – and all Democrat candidates, by extension – back into the good graces of low-income families.
Federal Government Must Collect More Granular Data on Minorities to Aid in Initiatives
Discussion on the “data gap” comes as the nation tries to connect the unserved and underserved.
WASHINGTON, August 31, 2022 – In order to serve the needs of all Americans, the federal government must gather and act on more granular data on underrepresented minority groups that have been historically overlooked in the data-gathering process, said Denice Ross, the White House’s chief data scientist.
Ross argued at an online event hosted by the Center for Data Innovation on Tuesday that many minority groups – including African Americans, Native Americans, the disabled, and the LGBT community – are disadvantaged by the “data divide,” a term which refers to disparities in the amount and quality of available data on various groups.
Ross was citing a report issued earlier this year by the Equitable Data Working Group, a task force created by President Joe Biden earlier this year, which said policymakers are often unable to perceive or ameliorate problems facing minority communities if data on those communities are unavailable or insufficiently disaggregated. Disaggregated data, the report says, is “data that can be broken down and analyzed by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, age, or other key demographic variables.”
The report recommends a federal data collection strategy that safeguards privacy and facilitates analysis of “the interconnectedness of identities and experiences,” or how individuals’ various minority-group identities compound the societal disadvantages they face. The report also advocates the creation of “incentives and pathways” promoting minority representation in the data collection process.
The recommendations come as the broadband industry and federal agencies try to improve knowledge of where there are unserved and underserved areas for broadband connectivity and to take action to improve digital literacy. The Illinois Broadband Lab and other state broadband offices, for example, implement a community-up approach to data gathering. Direct community involvement provides data insights that help states deliver coverage to in-need communities, officials say.
In the panel discussion that followed Ross’s opening remarks, experts and academics agreed that community outreach is a necessary step in closing the data divide. Dominique Harrison, director of bank Citi Ventures’ Racial Equity Design and Data Initiative, said that some in the African American community view data collection with skepticism.
Christopher Wood, executive director of LGBT Tech, argued that the passage of a federal privacy standard is a critical step toward establishing trust in government data collection. The most recent attempt to pass a national privacy regime, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, was approved by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last month.
Libraries in Position to Help Promote Federal Programs, Improve Digital Literacy: Library Rep
Libraries can act as gateways to ensure community members know about their broadband subsidy options.
WASHINGTON, August 31, 2022 – Libraries’ close connection with community members allow them to act as gateways for digital literacy, according to the deputy director of the Public Library Association.
Initiatives such as the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program and Emergency Connectivity Fund lower the cost of obtaining broadband coverage and devices, but at least the former has been plagued by a marketing problem.
As the FCC builds its outreach program for to more effectively market the ACP, Larra Clark, deputy director of the PLA and of the Public Policy & Advocacy Office of the American Library Association, said libraries can help promote those programs and help address digital literacy problems as well.
Speaking Monday at a GovExec and Comcast web event, Clark argued that the efforts of government officials, experts, and industry players to provide broadband coverage and the hardware necessary to access it must be accompanied by community-level educational programs.
Many unserved or underserved individuals, however, are unaware of how to get access to broadband, Clark said. And even if unserved and underserved individuals are aware of the programs through which they can obtain broadband, they often lack the digital literacy to navigate application processes.
Clark said she believes that a necessary component of digital literacy outreach is understanding the perspectives on and biases against new technologies in many hard-to-reach communities. “I really believe these human dimensions should be at the forefront of our conversations,” Clark said.
A Texas library system facilitated pandemic relief
At the same event, David Cross, Comcast’s vice president of enterprise sales, offered an example of how libraries can extend broadband assistance to their communities.
During the pandemic, one Texas library system offered parking lot drive-through stations that helped people sign up for government assistance on energy costs. By providing iPads, WiFi access, and staff assistance, Cross said, this program ensured that all in-need community members – including the unserved and the technologically illiterate – were able to access relief and restore power to their homes.
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