Achieving Digital Equity

In a society increasingly dependent on technology, the people within our communities require functional knowledge and skill in using computers and online services. For employment, communication, social engagement and personal interest, there is an overwhelming need for digital literacy.  

…establishing community engagement to ensure digital equity efforts are inclusive of all communities in the SLV and that those furthest from opportunity have a seat at the table

There are those in our community who have access to technology and relevant devices, access to competent internet connection options, and digital literacy education.  There are also those who do not share these advantages, and struggle with frustrating barriers.

This is the digital divide.

Experiencing the challenge of the barriers to digital equity impacts all of us. 

  • Education advancement
  • Health care in rural areas
  • Business and commerce
  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Entertainment and social engagement

The digital divide is a significant challenge, but solutions exist. Establishing programs and tools that incorporate the following are proven methods to removing barriers.

  • Affordable, competent, and abundant broadband internet service options
  • Opportunities for digital literacy education
  • Accessible technical assistance where needed
  • Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user

What is Digital Equity?

“Equity is a necessarily evolving concept because the outputs of educational equity are contingent upon the world in which the educated exist… Without digital inclusion, the predominance of technology becomes a barrier to entry and participation. By working to curb this, digital equity sets out to ensure everyone has the technological capacity to participate in the labor market as empowered employees, partake in educational opportunities, engage positively with others online, and practice informed citizenship.”

In October of 2020, the SLV RLC invited the SLV BTSC and convened the Regional Broadband Collaboration Summit to identify potential projects and discuss key issues around accessibility, affordability, relevancy, and collaborative organizing. The perspectives of 50+ diverse community members were uplifted, including the Board of Cooperative Education Services, Adams State University, Valley-Wide Health Systems, state and local government officials, and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Through robust dialogue, these stakeholders reaffirmed that equity cannot be achieved if certain communities do not have sufficient technology access for participation. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits in the SLV have been collaborating with local ISPs to fill gaps with short-term solutions, connecting community members to pop-up WiFi, hotspots, and laptops. However, these individual efforts are not addressing the root of the issue, and the health and future of rural communities hinges on sustainable, long-term solutions. Large complicated and systemic issues require collaboration, financial resources, and leadership to make meaningful and lasting progress. Through public-private partnerships communities can subsidize certain infrastructure costs, allowing ISPs to gain additional business and connect traditionally underserved communities to quality internet. Retaining community ownership of this infrastructure lowers consumer cost and nurtures healthy competition.

Ultimate Goals of Digital Literacy

Throughout the process of improving the digital literacy of our communities, we use these concepts to guide and encourage our efforts:

  • Incorporating digital skills into everyday life improves efficiency, effectiveness, and wellbeing 
  • Technology and online engagement can strengthen community, offer opportunities to appreciate and discover the value of diversity within our cultures, and equitably elevate all who call these spaces home
  • To encourage collaboration between individuals and organizations
  • Cultivating an environment that offers dignity, and empowers people to try, fail, and learn continually and adaptively

The Internet is the great leveler of our current society…