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Digital Inclusion

Digital Equity Planning Process Should Include Local Communities, Says NTIA Official

Engaging local communities can build trust, which is an important factor in increasing adoption.



WASHINGTON, April 6, 2023 — Government entities and local community organizations must work together to maximize the long-term impact of federal digital equity funding, and should include underserved communities in the planning process to pave the way for universal adoption, according to experts at a Broadband Breakfast event on Wednesday.

“We have to we have to hear from all voices — not just the higher-level government organizations, but the organizations that are serving our covered population, the people in the field doing this work and those lived experts who are actually experiencing some of those barriers,” said Susan Corbett, executive director of the National Digital Equity Center.

Amy Huffman, Policy Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance

The three programs created by the Digital Equity Act build on top of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program to ensure that communities have the necessary resources and skills to fully utilize the internet.

“Aligning and integrating [digital equity initiatives] with the BEAD program is essential,” said Angela Thi Bennett, digital equity director for the NTIA. “States should be doing this work in tandem, making sure that the BEAD plans and digital equity plans aren’t siloed… so that everyone is working towards that same goal of universal access.”

States, territories and tribal governments are currently utilizing funds from the $60 million State Planning Program to develop digital equity plans. The implementation of these plans will be supported by the $1.44 billion State Capacity Program, which is set to launch in 2024.

The $1.25 billion Competitive Program will be open to a wider range of entities — including local municipalities, nonprofit organizations and community anchor institutions — and is expected to begin accepting applications within a month of the first Capacity awards.

This program can help ensure that any potential gaps in state plans are filled by the “incredible grassroots work that happens from people local closest to the communities,” said David Keyes, digital equity advisor for the City of Seattle.

Community involvement is key to sustainable, effective planning

For each of the Digital Equity Act programs, engagement with local communities is important for ensuring long-term sustainability, Bennett said. “We need to make sure that we’re building the capacity of the organizations that are serving these communities so this work can continue.”

“There’s a lot of requirements and not a lot of time, but we really want to make sure that we support states to reach that end goal of creating digital equity ecosystems across the country that are sustainable,” agreed Amy Huffman, policy director for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

To achieve this goal, Huffman advocated for prioritizing community engagement “first and foremost,” from the initial planning stages through implementation.

“It should not only be a checking a box, but it needs to be meaningful and continuous,” she said. “States and territories and the tribal organizations should be co-creating these plans with communities.”

In addition to supporting the sustainability of state plans, this local engagement will improve the plans themselves by ensuring that they “reflect the actual needs and the realities that are on the ground of the individual communities,” Huffman added.

Panelists call for ACP extension, emphasizing importance to other initiatives

One of the major focuses of digital equity planning — particularly for local stakeholders — is increasing adoption rates.

“We know that broadband passes probably about 95 percent of households, yet only 77 percent of people subscribe,” said Deborah Lathen, president of Lathen Consulting LLC. “The focus has got to be on affordability, because we know it’s basically lower income people who do not subscribe to broadband.”

While the Affordable Connectivity Program was designed to address this very issue, many experts have predicted that it will run out of funding by mid-2024.

“The extension of ACP is urgent,” Lathen said “One of the worst things you can do is sign people up and then drop the program, because I think another major factor impacting adoption is trust.”

The collapse of the ACP could also impact the efficacy of other federal connectivity initiatives, Huffman warned.

“The Digital Equity Act is $2.75 billion — it’s a lot of money — but that’s not enough to cover affordability, devices, skills, everything for the foreseeable future,” she said. “It needs the Affordable Connectivity Program to be alongside it in order for it to be as effective as it can possibly be.”

Despite its importance, the ACP alone is not enough to ensure universal connectivity, Bennett said. “There are still segments of our population that don’t qualify for ACP, but can’t afford the internet,” Bennett said. “If we are truly wanting to accomplish internet for all, we also need to make sure that [those segments] are also able to receive access.”

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023, 12 Noon ET – State Digital Equity Plans

The Digital Equity Act, part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, provides $2.75 billion for three grant programs aiming to promote digital equity. The $60 million State Planning Program, $1.44 billion State Capacity Program and $1.25 Competitive Program will fund a variety of digital equity projects across the country, from planning to implementation. In this session of Broadband Breakfast Live Online, state broadband leaders will talk about how their states are approaching the digital equity planning process and what they hope to accomplish with the federal funding.


  • Angela Thi Bennett, Digital Equity Director, NTIA
  • Susan Corbett, Executive Director, National Digital Equity Center
  • Amy Huffman, Policy Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance
  • David Keyes, Digital Equity Advisor, City of Seattle
  • Deborah Lathen, President, Lathen Consulting LLC
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources

Angela Thi Bennett serves as the first-ever digital equity director at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration within the U.S. Department of Commerce, where she directs the allocation of $2.75 billion from the Digital Equity Act and helps develop guidelines for states to equitably use these funds. Her vast community and public sector experience include leading East Cleveland’s department of community and economic development, serving as superintendent of a community school in Cleveland and serving on the Ohio State Board of Education. In her previous work at a community-based internet service provider, she was instrumental in growing the customer base and helping over 1,500 individuals benefit from affordable digital access during the height of the pandemic.

Susan Corbett founded the National Digital Equity Center in 2017, collaborating with local and global change makers, relentlessly driving disruptive strategies to close the digital divide in Maine and across the United States. She serves as the Executive Director, and is a preeminent authority and advocate for digital equity and digital inclusion. She is currently collaborating with the State of Maine to create their statewide Digital Equity and Digital Inclusion Plan.

Amy Huffman serves as policy director at National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). She is a public servant, systems thinker, innovative policy expert, and a storyteller with a passion for digital equity that spans more than 10 years. Amy was the first digital inclusion and policy manager in the State of North Carolina, and she has since grown as a leader with a national portfolio, including advocating for, influencing, and educating stakeholders about the $2.75-billion Digital Equity Act.

David Keyes works at the intersection of information and communications technologies, race and social justice, and community capacity building. He has over 25 years experience guiding the City of Seattle’s digital equity strategic planning, advocacy, programs and evaluation. He was the first community technology planner in the country and developed the City’s Technology Access and Adoption Indicators research. In 2016, he received the inaugural Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Benton Foundation.

Deborah Lathen is an attorney and policymaker who has been working on digital equity issues for over three decades. She was appointed to a Senior Executive position in the Clinton Administration as Chief of the Cable Services Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, where she led a bureau of 112 lawyers, economists, accountants, engineers and economists in setting policies and crafting regulations covering cable, satellite TV, internet and equipment providers. In 2001, she founded Lathen Consulting, LLC where she advises clients on telecommunications regulatory and policy matters.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Graphic from Adobe Stock used with permission

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As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

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See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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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