On the way to 2022 with real digital equity on the horizon
According to a recent study, 27.6 million (22.5%) US households do not have home internet. The study also found that more than a quarter of a million (265,331) US households still use dial-up internet, and the least connected states are Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. Additionally, according to the FTC, 14.5 million Americans still do not have access to Internet service at the current standard: download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second.
This problem, known as the digital divide, can be summarized as follows: the gap in access to information and modern communication technologies between different groups of people. This gap disproportionately affects disadvantaged members of society. In particular, the elderly, people living in poverty, people living in rural areas and those who experience permanent systemic deprivation of their rights (homelessness).
An example of past disenfranchisement that has been rectified in recent months, is the fact that taxpayers have been led to jump through a variety of hoops to Create an online account with the IRS if they don’t have a credit card or mortgage. 21% of US consumers do not have a credit card, leaving a significant number of people without many options for accessing their IRS account. This policy has since been amended with the ability to verify an identity via ID.Me.
How is this gap bridged?
The recent $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package promises to tackle this problem head-on in a calculated push towards Digital equity.
$65 billion of those dollars go directly to expanding broadband connectivity. A any further $2.75 billion of the package is specifically dedicated to digital equity and inclusion programs – aimed at educating people with tech skills and giving them access to the devices they need to stay connected.
Although this is a national initiative, a huge part of the work needed to achieve digital equity will fall to state and local governments. Citizens with better digital access are happier, but providing that access means government needs to be omnichannel. If an agency is trying to engage with the underserved, for example, mobile access becomes important, as it is the internet access only many low-income groups can own. Today, 15% of American adults are “smartphone-only” Internet users, meaning they own a smartphone but don’t have traditional home broadband service, which makes it extremely difficult for them to navigate things like spreadsheets and PDFs.
Preparing for the next chapter
An initiative as ambitious as the Digital Equity component of the package will come up against its share of challenges. Build the actual infrastructure supporting digital engagement is one of them. However, the for the benefit of investment could be colossal.
Some localities have already taken steps to advance accessibility. the Sonoma County Safety Net is a remarkable example of how some localities have begun to lead the way on this front. For example, one initiative that was passed to help combat digital diving in Sonoma County was that over 4,000 replacement documents were issued to victims of wildfires, and 4,700 people whose income or jobs were affected by the fires were helped to file for disaster unemployment insurance. Another example New York’s Monroe County Provided Critical Funding for Emergency Rental Assistance Program
The more citizens of all social and economic strata are connected to the Internet, the more they will be able to reap the benefits of the digital age and become active participants in a truly digital government. Additionally, the government entities that serve these people will be inspired by their successes to accelerate the pace of their own modernization efforts, inevitably advancing America’s digital transformation journey one state, city, and town at a time.
About Gary Leikin:
Like by SimpliGov CEO, Gary Leikin leads the SimpliGov team and brings over 20 years of increasingly senior leadership experience to the role. Gary has deep experience driving digital transformation strategies and building high growth recurring revenue businesses and holds an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.