The Right Time for a National Digital Inclusion Alliance
This guest post is by Angela Siefer, a former OCLC colleague and an amazing advocate for digital inclusion. Angela is currently the Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
There is a clear need among non-profit organizations and libraries for a national broadband adoption advocacy organization. Three federal agencies (National Telecommunications and Information Administration [NTIA], Housing and Urban Development [HUD], Federal Communications Commission [FCC]), plus the White House, are focusing significant attention and possibly significant resources on broadband adoption. How significant the resources will be could depend upon strong advocacy by broadband adoption practitioners in non-profit organizations and libraries.
To meet this need, I am pleased to announce the creation of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and an opportunity to work together on common broadband challenges.
There are groups who include broadband adoption in their advocacy work, but there has been a distinct lack of representation of on-the-ground broadband adoption practitioners representing both non-profit organizations and libraries at the federal level. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has filled that gap. The purpose of NDIA is to be a unified voice for local technology training, home broadband access, and public broadband access programs. We work collaboratively to craft, identify, and disseminate operational resources for digital inclusion programs while serving as a bridge to policymakers and the general public.
Key Polices That Can Increase Broadband Adoption in the United States
- The FCC plans to initiate a rulemaking process in summer 2015 to include broadband as an allowable use of Lifeline funds for low-income Americans. Lifeline currently provides a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers. An expanded Lifeline program with funding available to support the cost of broadband for low-income consumers could be incredibly helpful to raising broadband adoption rates in the United States. While cost is certainly not the only barrier to adoption and the federal subsidy might only cover a portion of a chosen broadband plan, the effort is one of the most aggressive, broad steps the federal government could take to support broadband adoption. We at NDIA have already begun having conversations with the FCC and have published our questions and suggestions for the modernization of the Lifeline Program.
- The President’s interagency Broadband Opportunity Council (BOC) sought public comment on how federal agencies can promote broadband deployment, adoption, and competition. The Council, which is comprised of 25 federal agencies, is tasked with developing a framework of recommendations to explore ways to remove unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers, incentivize investment, and align funding polices and decisions to support broadband access and adoption. The BOC’s Request for Comments provided an opportunity for NDIA to gain public attention (and action!) on specific ways federal agencies can modernize current programs to increase broadband adoption without Congressional action. Comments were due June 10, 2015, and NDIA submitted comments with specific suggestions on how a variety of programs can be modernized to include support for public access, home broadband service and local training and support.
The evidence is clear. To successfully increase broadband use in the U.S. we must have low-cost options AND local training/support, including a diverse set of local partners with established roots in the community. Trust of the individual and organization providing instruction on technology use and explaining broadband provider options is essential. This point has been reiterated in John Horrigan’s evaluation of Comcast’s Internet Essentials, an independent review of CenturyLink’s Internet Basics Program, and a myriad of documentation of National Telecommunication Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), particularly the NTIA Broadband Adoption Toolkit.
Fortunately, our local non-profit organizations, libraries, churches, and public housing agencies have been providing technology training and access for decades. Because the services are locally grown, they vary widely from basic technology classes taught by volunteers to home broadband programs with required technology training components. Unfortunately, many libraries struggle with adequate funding for public access, digital literacy and hotspot lending programs. Interest in hotspot lending programs (borrowing the Internet) is spreading rapidly. We must craft a long-range plan for sustaining these programs.
Join The Effort
Does the above description sound familiar? Would you define yourself as a broadband adoption practitioner? The National Digital Inclusion Alliance is gathering broadband adoption practitioners, advocates, and supporters - join us!
The Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Founding Council is:
- Angela Siefer, Consultant
- Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, Kansas City Public Library
- Amina Fazlullah, Benton Foundation
- John Windhausen, SHLB Coalition
- Kami Griffiths, Community Technology Network
- Luke Swarthout, New York City Public Library
- Bill Callahan, Connect Your Community
- Nicol Turner-Lee, Multicultural Media & Telecom Council
- Amy Sample Ward, NTEN
We look forward to sharing updates of our progress and hope you'll consider joining us as we move ahead!