Affordable high-speed internet access, along with the relevant skills and computers to utilize it, has become foundational to participation in our modern world. Education, small business, health care and employment all require digital skills and access. Unfortunately, many individuals and companies lack such access, leaving them on the wrong side of what’s known as the digital divide.
In early 2018, based on input from the KC Fed’s Community Development Advisory Council, the Bank launched an investigation into the digital divide with two initial goals:
- Identify key challenges and opportunities to narrow the digital divide and communicate the findings broadly.
- Identify what, if any, additional role the Bank could serve to narrow the divide.
Through a series of roundtable discussions, one-on-one interviews, and an online survey, more than 160 practitioners weighed in. This feedback identified seven common themes that are addressed in a report the Bank recently released: “Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide.” The Bank structured Disconnected to serve as a primer for those with a direct interest in the topic but who lack a holistic understanding of the issues.
Also, on July 31 and Aug. 1, the Bank hosted a conference in Kansas City for state broadband leaders. The conference dove deeply into the issues affecting broadband deployment initiatives, such as mapping actual broadband coverage, effective state regulations and approaches to working with state broadband taskforces. Participants came from as far west as Hawaii and as far east as Maine and Puerto Rico.
Looking ahead, the Bank plans to expand upon a pilot program it launched in October 2018 to donate 25 replaced computers to community development programs. In just six months, the donated computers were:
- Helping low-income students learn how to code and compete in robotics competitions
- Allowing three mothers to continue their education
- Increasing the digital skills capability of teachers in classroom
In 2019, the Kansas City Fed plans to increase the number of its donated computers to 75 and is consulting with other Federal Reserve Banks about launching their own programs.