Elon University

Internet Governance Forum, USA 2019 – Innovative Inclusion

IGF USA LogoPanel – Innovative Solutions for Digital Inclusion 2019

Brief session description:

Thursday, July 25, 2019 – The digital divide remains a significant challenge in the U.S. For example, those living in rural communities in the U.S. today have a one-in-four chance of lacking access to fixed, high-speed broadband at home; Americans in urban areas have a one-in-50 probability of the same. Communities across the country have developed innovative solutions to bring those online who may have otherwise been left behind. This panel was asked to explore creative and effective solutions for broadband access and digital literacy and to offer suggestions about next steps for others looking to implement their own digital-inclusion efforts.

Moderator – Nilmini Rubin, vice president, TetraTech, an engineering consultancy that works to increase Internet access in developing countries.

Claude Aiken, president and CEO, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association
Dan Noyes, co-executive director, Tech Goes Home
Trinity Thorpe-Lubneuski, senior director, strategic communications & research, Internet essentials at Comcast
Mariel Triggs, CEO, MuralNet

Details of the session:

Panelists in the IGF-USA Innovative Solutions for Digital Inclusion Breakout Session discussed obstacles and opportunities to connect the unconnected to the Internet. The discussion centered on specific programs and technologies that could be used to advance access and on Internet literacy and learning.

“The Internet is the great equalizer,” said Trinity Thorpe-Lubneuski, senior director of strategic communications and research for the Comcast Corporation’s Internet Essentials program, which has helped connect 6 million low-income households to the Internet since 2011.

Thorpe-Lubneuski said 93 percent of those families reported that having Internet at home has improved their children’s grades.

The program offers free online and in-person digital literacy training, and allows participants the opportunity to purchase a low-cost computer.

“Ideally, we won’t stop until every household is connected,” Thorpe-Lubneuski said.

Dan Noyes, co-executive director at Tech Goes Home, a nonprofit that tries to offer Internet access, computers and life skills to people who do have them or can’t afford them, also focuses on making the Internet affordable. To illustrate his point, Noyes told the story of a woman who decided to forgo her medications to afford Internet access for her children.

“The system is broken when it comes to the Internet right now,” Noyes said.

The panelists also addressed the misrepresentation of statistics and information when it comes to Internet accessibility. They clarified what was really happening in some communities.

Mariel Triggs, CEO of MuralNet, focused on tribal groups and her project connecting remote communities in the Grand Canyon. Specifically, she talked about the Havasupai tribe, who live in a remote location accessible only via horseback.

“There’s a lot of reasons why people assume tribal communities do not want to be connected,” Triggs said, “and it’s because they are not talking to the people.”

But had lawmakers and policy people talked to the Havasupai people, they would’ve learned that tribal members traveled hundreds of miles to gather and talk about access. After two and a half days, they had crafted language and a budget that would address the issue.

But access is only one issue. Affordability is also key. Noyes said that 40 percent of people participating in the Tech Goes Home program had Internet, but had to cancel it in the last year because of the cost.

Another expert trying to bridge the accessibility gap is Claude Aiken, CEO and president of the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association. Aiken works with companies to eliminate the digital divide by using fixed wireless broadband. And he’s focusing on spectrum policy to help close that gap.

“We’ve tried subsidies. We’ve tried lowering regulatory barriers,” Aiken said, “We haven’t really tried doing spectrum policy in a way that makes sense that was targeted at closing digital divides.”

Triggs agreed that creating policy that provides access to spectrum will bring the Internet to more rural communities. She also said she believed policy is the largest barrier in the way of connecting people.

“What we’ve found,” Triggs said, “is the pinch points are really the policy ones.”

Triggs explained how much equipment costs, but also how, in the end, it was the wait for access and the licensed spectrum acquisition that cost the most. The Havasupai had to wait four months to get spectrum approved. Afterward, it took Triggs and volunteers half of a day to set up an Internet connection.

All of the panelists stressed that the digital divide hinders people’s access to education and communities. They encouraged people to advocate for Internet equality policy, educate people on digital literacy and donate to organizations that actively work to bridge the divide.

– By Elisabeth Bachmann

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Full Video of “Innovative Solutions for Digital Inclusion” Panel – https://livestream.com/internetsociety/igfusa2019/videos/194354857

The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2019 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:

Janna Anderson, Maeve Ashbrook, Elisabeth Bachmann, Bryan Baker, Paloma Camacho, Samantha Casamento, Colin Donohue, Abby Gibbs, Jack Haley, Hannah Massen, Grace Morris, Jack Norcross, Maria Ramirez, Brian Rea, Alexandra Roat, Baylor Rodman, Zach Skillings, Ted Thomas, Victoria Traxler, Julia Walter, Courtney Weiner, Mackenzie Wilkes and Cameron Wolfslayer