WASHINGTON, November 17, 2023 – Building legitimacy with underserved communities is a key part of the job for digital navigators, those working to help people adopt broadband services. It’s also one of the hardest, a group of those navigators said on Tuesday.
“This is the hardest work. The heaviest lift,” said Candace Browdy, director of Connect lake County, an organization that works to get discounted internet to low-income households in Illinois. “You’re representing a government benefit and you’re working with people who don’t have that built in trust of the government – for reasons that are legitimate.”
She spoke on a panel at the Connect20 Summit, an event aimed at facilitating conversations between digital navigators and policymakers as digital equity funds from the Infrastructure Act begin to flow.
Finding a shared connection with people is key to breaking down some of that hesitation, said Kendall Lee-Daugherty, a digital navigator for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
For him, that’s having grown up in the same area and community as the people he serves.
“Having someone who you know has grown up in your town, who knows the region and the companies there, who knows how customer service works… it’s more beneficial in the long run,” he said. “People in my community still call me up. They’re starting to treat the relationship more as a friendship.”
Walter Prescher, a digital navigator at a Texas nonprofit, said his status as a veteran helps him build trust in the state’s smaller, rural communities.
“Veterans are often trusted members of the community, and when they vouch for you, people will begin to buy in,” he said.
A sister program to the Biden administration’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion program, the Digital Equity Act makes $2.75 billion available for digital equity efforts, like hiring digital navigators to foster broadband adoption where people have access. About $60 million of that has been freed up for states to draft digital equity plans, with the remaining $2.69 billion set to become available in 2024.
To stay involved with the Digital Navigator movement, sign up at the Connect20 Summit.