Digital Inclusion

Interested in digital inclusion? Find additional resources on our program page: Building Digital Communities: Pilot.

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

To help explain digital inclusion, we've created a Digital Inclusion Infographic.

Why? 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. More on why digital inclusion is essential.

How? Building a digitally inclusive community requires participation and support from all sectors: libraries, community based organizations, business, government and policy makers. Digital inclusion strategies vary widely. Even projects that seem similar are implemented differently, often to accommodate local populations and utilize existing resources. More on how to increase information technology access and use.

Who? The populations least likely to be online include the less educated, individuals with lower incomes, seniors, and persons with disabilities. More on who is not using the internet and who does not have home broadband service.

Barriers? The most common reasons an indivudal would not be an internet user and/or have a home broadband service are cost (of the technology and/or the home broadband service), relevance and lack of digital skills. More on barriers to internet use and broadband adoption.

Why Is Digital Inclusion Essential?

"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

"After controlling for demographic and geographic factors, Internet use among
 dults ages 25 and older was associated with a 6 percentage point increase in probability of employment, relative to individuals who were not online. Furthermore, living in a household where someone goes online from home – regardless of whether the individual personally does so or not – was associated with a 3 percentage point increase in the probability of having a job."  Exploring the Digital Nation: America's Emerging Online Experience, a report of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (June 2013, p.7.)

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."

How Can We Increase Digital Inclusion?

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 high speed broadband.

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.
  • Civic engagement training that teaches community members how to engage online with government.

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?

From Who's Not Online and Why, report of the Pew Internet & American Life Project (September 25, 2013):

  • 15% of all Americans do not use the Internet.
  • 41% of Americans who do not have a high school diploman do not use the Internet.
  • 22% of Americans with only a high school diploma do not use the Internet.
  • 44% of Americans over the age of 65 do not use the Internet.
  • 24% of Americans with a household income of less than $30,000 do not use the Internet.
  • 24% of Hispanic Americans (English and Spanish speaking) do not use the Internet.

From Exploring the Digital Nation: America's Emerging Online Experience, a report of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (June 2013):

  • In 2011, less than a quarter (24 percent) of African American rural
    households headed by someone without a high school diploma said that they owned a computer, compared to 67 percent of all rural households, and 76 percent of all U.S. households. Concerning broadband service, only 16 percent of African American rural households headed by someone without a high school diploma used high-speed Internet at home. (p.43)

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)

Barriers to Internet Use and Home Adoption

From Who's Not Online and Why, report of the Pew Internet & American Life Project (September 25, 2013):

  • 34% of non-internet users think the internet is just not relevant to them, saying they are not interested, do not want to use it, or have no need for it.
  • 32% of non-internet users cite reasons tied to their sense that the internet is not very easy to use. These non-users say it is difficult or frustrating to go online, they are physically unable, or they are worried about other issues such as spam, spyware, and hackers. This figure is considerably higher than in earlier surveys.
  • 19% of non-internet users cite the expense of owning a computer or paying for an internet connection.
  • 7% of non-users cited a physical lack of availability or access to the internet.

From Digital Cities, Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C. and Franko, W.  (2013), New York, NY: Oxford University Press (p. 176):

  • 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, controlling for other factors.
  • However, the poor, Latinos, females, and those with less education are significantly more likely to cite afffordability as the main reason for not having the Internet at home.