Author: Gloria E. Jacobs

Net Inclusion 2017 Brings Together Digital Inclusion Advocates

This post was written by team member, Matthew Timberlake, IT Portfolio Manager of the Multnomah County Library System.

Representatives from the City of Portland, Multnomah County Library and Multnomah County attended the NDIA Net Inclusion 2017 conference in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This was the second annual Net Inclusion conference, and like the first, it was a remarkable gathering of professionals from many fields who work to foster the goals of digital equity and inclusion (definitions below). Also attending from Portland: members of NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network, and Free Geek, which offers free refurbished computers and technology classes.

Convened by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, the 2017 conference featured speakers and panelists from government, academia, libraries, community-based organizations and non-profits. It featured video speeches by Minnesota Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and the keynote address was delivered by Maya Wiley of The New School.

A recurring subject of the conference was the path forward for digital equity in light of the new Administration’s antipathy to regulation and issues of digital inclusion.

Ajit Pai, the new Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has moved to roll back the internet privacy and net neutrality rules promulgated by the previous chairman, Tom Wheeler. The FCC has already severely limited the LIfeLine program, designed to provide low-cost internet access to low-income Americans.

These core issues of digital equity, free speech, and economic opportunity dominated the conference. There were more than 25 panels presented, with topics including:

The NDIA also announced that this year’s recipient of the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award is Emy Tseng, a Senior Communications Program Specialist at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, citing Tseng’s many years of work to increase broadband access and adoption in underserved communities throughout the United States, and her efforts as the Digital Inclusion Director for the City of San Francisco, where she shaped one of the earliest local government digital inclusion programs.

Lastly, there was an effort to find clarity in defining the differences between digital equity, and its necessary component, digital inclusion. The NDIA has published the following definitions:

Digital Equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy. Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This includes 5 elements: 1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3) access to digital literacy training; 4) quality technical support; and 5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.