Interested in digital inclusion? Find additional resources on our program page: Building Digital Communities: Pilot.
Photo Credit: Stephen Sefchik, Lorain County Community College
What is Digital Inclusion?
“Digital inclusion is the ability of individuals and groups to access and use information and communication technologies.” From “Building Digital Communities: A Framework for Action”, 2011
Access and use of information and communication technologies impacts individuals and the community as a whole. The technology itself is the tool. A digitally inclusive community is important to economic and workforce development, civic participation, education, healthcare, and public safety.
Building a digitally inclusive community requires participation and support from all sectors: libraries, community based organizations, business, government and policy makers.
How Are Communities Increasing Digital Participation?
Digital inclusion strategies vary widely. Even projects that seem similar are implemented differently, often to accommodate local populations and utilize existing resources.
Technology and internet access strategies for individuals include (but are not limited to!):
- Public access computers.
- Computers accessible to defined populations (such as residents of a housing complex).
- Free wifi hotspots.
- Low cost options for home computer purchasing.
- Partnering with broadband providers to offer low cost broadband.
- Extending broadband service into rural areas lacking reasonable cost internet service.
Technology and internet use strategies for individuals include (but are not limited to!):
- Digital literacy and other technology training in trusted and comfortable locations (libraries, community centers, churches, schools, recreation centers, senior centers, etc) supported by trained computer instructors, librarians and lab monitors.
- Training that focuses on the outcome (such as job searching) rather than the technology. This approach is often referred to as project based learning.
- Youth digital media projects guiding young people toward professional technology use and civic engagement.
- Technology training and guidance for small businesses.
- Accessibility technology and strategies for persons with disabilities.
- Awareness campaigns highlighting the relevancy of broadband for target populations.
- Technology fairs focused on community members sharing and teaching each other.
The following terms are often used to describe digital inclusion efforts:
- Broadband Adoption – The national Broadband Plan defines the barriers of broadband adoption as cost, digital literacy and relevance. National Broadband Plan: Connecting America, 2010. The NTIA Broadband Adoption Toolkit, released May 2013, organizes broadband adoption strategies into Awareness & Outreach, Home Computer & Broadband Service, Training: Planning & Delivery, and Training: Curriculum & Relevant Content.
- Digital Literacy - “Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information; it requires both technical and cognitive skills.” From Digital Literacy Task Force of ALA, 2011
- Community Technology Centers (CTCs) or Public Computing Centers (PCCs) – computer labs providing free access to technology and technology training. Some locations also provide free wifi. Outside of the United States, they are referred to as telecentres.
Who is Not Online and Why?
From Digital Differences, a report of the Pew Internet & American Life Project (April 13, 2012):
- One in five American adults does not use the internet. Senior citizens, those who prefer to take our interviews in Spanish rather than English, adults with less than a high school education, and those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year are the least likely adults to have internet access.
- The 27% of adults living with disability in the U.S. today are significantly less likely than adults without a disability to go online (54% vs. 81%). Furthermore, 2% of adults have a disability or illness that makes it more difficult or impossible for them to use the internet at all.
- Though overall internet adoption rates have leveled off, adults who are already online are doing more. And even for many of the “core” internet activities we studied, significant differences in use remain, generally related to age, household income, and educational attainment.
From Digital Cities, Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C. and Franko, W. (2013), New York, NY: Oxford University Press:
- "Barriers to technology access vary across neighborhood contexts and vary across different demographic groups." (p. 185)
- Of Chicago adult residents, "Older individuals and those with more income are more likely to say they are not interested as reasons for not using the Internet at home." (p. 176)
- Of Chicago adult residents, "the poor, Latinos, females, and those with less education are significantly more likely to cite affordability as the main reason for not having the Internet at home." (p. 176)
What is the Value of a Digitally Inclusive Community?
"Communications services and technological innovations should be accessible and affordable to all because of the implications they have for sustained economic development. The three elements supporting the success of technology in cities are broadband (commonly understood as high-speed Internet) access, broadband adoption (understanding how it can be used) and the effective application of it." National League of Cities, May 2013
“Digital inclusion is a requisite for building healthy and prosperous communities across all important sectors—economic and workforce development, education, health care, public safety and emergency services, civic engagement, and social connections. While each community will have different priorities, the fundamental needs are the same.” “Building Digital Communities: A Framework for Action”, 2011
In 2009, PricewaterhouseCoopers created a report for the Champion for Digital Inclusion to assess the potential economic benefits of digital inclusion in the UK. From Champion for Digital Inclusion: The Economic Case for Digital Inclusion (October 2009):
"We have examined four main areas of potential economic benefit from enhanced digital inclusion:
- Improved education and employment outcomes, for example as individuals enhance their
qualifications and this improves their earnings and/or their probability of finding employment;
- Improved health and well being outcomes, for example through access to improved health
information and health services;
- Efficiency savings for public service providers enabled by greater use of online information and
- Potential benefits for consumers able to purchase a wider range of products at lower prices."
From National Broadband Plan: Connecting America, 2010:
"A high-performance America cannot stand by as other countries charge into the digital era. In the country where the Internet was born, we cannot watch passively while other nations lead the world in its utilization. We should be the leading exporter of broadband technology—high-value goods and services that drive enduring economic growth and job creation. And we should be the leading user of broadband-enabled technologies that help businesses increase their productivity, help government improve its openness and efficiency, and give consumers new ways to communicate, work and entertain themselves."