In recent years, digital inclusion has become essential to progress across the breadth of community development fields. Increasingly, access is required to obtain an education, secure and sustain employment, access financial services and successfully operate small businesses.

While the need is growing, disparities across communities remain and are cause for concern. According to a External Link2016 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Broadband Progress Report, 34 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband, defined as download speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of three Mbps. This population is disproportionately rural and poor:

  • 39 percent of rural Americans (23 million people) lack broadband access.
  • External LinkAccording to Pew Research Center, 53 percent of adults with incomes less than $30,000 have broadband at home, compared to 93 percent of those with incomes above $75,000.

Bridging the divide
Initiatives to narrow this digital divide, known as digital inclusion, require more than just broadband access. Effective strategies to ensure digital inclusion require a three-legged stool approach:

  1. Broadband access: Access to sufficient bandwidth to conduct data intensive tasks such as online learning and job research. 
  2. Computer access: Specifically, access to up-to-date desktops and laptops. While mobile devices (smartphones) are helpful, they are not sufficient for conducting many critical tasks, such as applying for jobs or doing homework.
  3. Training and technical assistance: Basic competency also is needed for online learning and education. Nearly eight in 10 middle-skill jobs in today’s workforce require digital skills.

Assessing community needs
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City recently launched a survey of community organizations working toward digital equity. The objectives of the survey are to gain clarity about current needs and innovative solutions to bridging the digital divide. Survey results will be shared in the fall. If you are a community organization with programs or services working to bridge the digital divide, you are encouraged to take the survey by External Linkclicking here.

Author

Jeremy Hegle

Senior Community Development Advisor

Jeremy W. Hegle, a native Missourian, was 12 when he began helping on his grandfather’s farm. He later served in the Army National Guard, launched a business support organization…