NLC’s Digital Equity Handbook Offers New Resource for Cities

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The National League of Cities (NLC) hosted a virtual webinar on the new digital equity playbook last week, providing local leaders with information, examples and resources to help improve digital equity within of their own communities.

During the December 9 webinar, NLC members and digital equity experts gathered to discuss how the tool could support and scale up other efforts in this space.

In particular, the game book reports that over 150 million people live with slow or unreliable internet service, and over 40 million do not have broadband. The digital divide affects some groups more than others, with the report indicating that nearly half of those digitally disconnected are blacks, Indigenous people and people of color.


“Additionally, the digital divide between those who have access to broadband and those who do not amplify existing racial inequalities in our communities,” said Clarence E. Anthony, Executive Director and CEO of NLC, during the presentation. virtual webinar.

The issue of funding is one of the biggest obstacles to the deployment of universal broadband, despite the influx of funds from the federal infrastructure bill.

Panelist Roberto Gallardo, director of the Center for Regional Development at Purdue University, argued that towns and small towns should first and foremost be part of the design of their state’s plan. In this way, he said, communities will be empowered and supported to solve this problem.

Gallardo also underlined the importance of reframing the digital divide as a labor and economic development issue. Workforce development programs are rarely removed from budget plans, he said.

Angelina Panettieri, legislative director of information and communications technology at the NLC, also highlighted federal investments that could be made available to local governments through competitive grants. The caveat here is that local leaders must be prepared to sue them or risk being left behind.

“And if communities haven’t taken the necessary steps to understand what the broadband gaps and digital inequalities exist for their residents and formulate a plan for the future, they won’t be ready to apply for these grants.” , she said. noted.

Even when the funding is there to provide digital resources to the community, these efforts can fail if the community is not involved in the decision-making process.

Munirih Jester cited an example of distributing hotspots to a community without having the data to know whether the hotspot connection serves a particular neighborhood.

Jester called cities a “great convener,” stressing the importance of the knowledge on the ground that community organizations can bring, both in terms of needs within a community and funding opportunities. Cities with this information are likely to be better equipped to communicate with their broadband offices.

“I think the beauty, and also the challenge, of building alliances and coalitions for digital inclusion is that there isn’t a set of rules,” she said.

Gallardo and Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School, both stressed the importance of working with local schools – at the high school and college level – when building a coalition. Students and faculty can be very helpful in staffing these efforts and raising awareness. This can be very useful for small communities with limited resources.

Electricity providers and partner companies with a vested interest in deploying Wi-Fi can also be valuable allies.

Meghan McDermott, director of digital inclusion and partnerships for New York City, said the goal of her city’s efforts is to serve New Yorkers in a way that can begin to mitigate the historic impacts of digital redlining.

She cautioned that while access and adoption go hand in hand, access does not automatically mean inclusion.

“There’s going to be a series of systemic issues that need to be addressed, and that’s the adoption side,” she said.

The playbook and webinar are the starting point for what will be an ongoing conversation between the NLC, cities and others with a vested interest in digital equity, Panettieri explained.

The organization will continue to build on this document with additional content. In addition, monthly “deep dives” will be scheduled in the many related topics, starting in January to share how to do the community needs assessment.

For now, local leaders can start by using the tool to initiate a digital equity needs assessment to understand broadband access and adoption in their own cities.

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