Digital Equity

Broadband and Infrastructure Program 2022-23′


Closing the Digital

Divide and Ending Digital Inequities for Washington Families 

SUMMARY The current COVID-19 global pandemic has shown a glaringly bright light on many social inequities negatively impacting Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color, low income communities, students, and elders. Digital access and use is no exception. As many schools moved to virtual instruction in the Spring of 2020, many students and their families struggled to access technical equipment such as laptops; access high-speed Internet services needed for multiple students and household members to engage in critical online activities; and access the knowledge or support to effectively learn or engage in a virtual environment. The majority of school districts in Washington State have announced that at least part of the 2020-21 school year, instruction will be again online. 

Connect Washington Coalition (CWC) is proposing a multi-pronged approach to meet the needs of those students and families that have historically and currently been most excluded from accessing quality digital services. This proposed solution would include: 

● affordable, robust broadband internet service; 

● internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 

● access to digital literacy training; 

● quality technical support; and 

● applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. 

Specifically, we are proposing that Washington State and collaborating partners support the implementation of: 

Enhanced Digital Inclusion Response As efforts to expand broadband infrastructure to unserved areas and provide wifi to some of these areas continue, there remains a need to enhance the parallel crisis response to ensure residents in need are able to find and afford internet, obtain devices, develop digital skills, and obtain technical and digital navigation support. Libraries, schools, and others are handing out hotspots and are providing some technical and use support, but there is a gap in providing help for families in using the internet and getting connected to other devices, digital skills, and learning resources. 

The Digital Inclusion Action Team of CWC is proposing the following steps and investments to enhance the current broadband infrastructure work and other actions being taken by the State to support student internet connectivity. This proposal will provide additional support services to fill gaps in helping struggling families. 

1) Digital Navigator Program 

CWC will solicit proposals and issue contracts to support the development of programs to directly address people’s barriers to digital access and provide online assistance for residents needing help with basic use of computers, internet, and online services and applications. CWC also proposes bulk buying the necessary technologies (laptops, hotspots, etc.) for Digital Navigators to distribute to those furthest from digital equity, as identified by the Digital Navigators themselves. We suggest a pilot program of 20 Digital Navigators spread across the State’s 10 congressional districts, and an initial purchase of 5,000 laptops and 2,000 hotspots to provide digital access services to demographically and geographically diverse populations. 

2) Digital Equity Local Response Projects 

To complement the Digital Navigators program and support community-based solutions, CWC will solicit proposals for direct service, ready to implement projects that address critical needs in helping underserved, vulnerable residents with internet, devices, digital skills, and technical support, as was done previously when the State contracted with the Washington State University and the State Commerce Department Community Technology Opportunity Program (CTOP). 

3) Statewide Digital Equity Dashboard 

As Digital Navigators collect data, CWC proposes working in parallel to build mapping technologies for identifying specific areas in the State of Washington where the need is greatest to provide broadband and/or WiFi hotspot access. 

This approach can be successful for all communities in Washington State with adequate funding as well as leveraging existing partnerships across sectors and cultural groups.

We respectfully ask for $6,063,118 to support the design and implementation of this vision. King County, Konica Minolta, and Facebook have already committed resources to this effort.

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