July 25, 2015
Boulder, Colorado’s KGNU radio host, Gavin Dahl, recently spoke with public interest advocates about digital inclusion on his weekly show, “It’s the Economy.” Guests included Mobile Citizen’s Managing Director Cassie Bair, along with Amina Fazullah, policy director at Benton Foundation and Angelia Siefer, director of National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).
The discussion centered on digital adoption gaps, the role of schools in closing those gaps and some specifics on national communications policies.
Benton Foundation Policy Director Fazullah noted that President Obama has been a vocal advocate at the national level, speaking often on net neutrality and open Internet principles. Just last week Obama touched on digital inclusion during his visit to Oklahoma, saying, “the Internet is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.”
The panel discussed other initiatives on the national radar like NDIA’s push to modernize the Lifeline Program, a 1980s-era federal program that provides discounts on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers. Director Siefer explained that NDIA’s member organizations are currently focused on the FCC’s proposed expansion of the Lifeline Program to include a broadband subsidy.
Bringing it down to the local level, the radio host highlighted an initiative spearheaded by Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) designed to help close the digital divide within its student population. BVSD has partnered with Boulder Housing Partners (BHP) to launch a pilot program to provide free wireless Internet service to BVSD students residing in one of BHP’s housing developments.
Ms. Bair of Mobile Citizen stressed the critical role local partners play as nonprofit coalitions like NDIA advocate on the national level. She explained that the local partners do the legwork of connecting communities to the Internet. Local partners have the relationships and on-the-ground locations within each community where digital training happens. They also have a handle on the other resources available to the public at the state and county levels.
The good news is national government agencies like HUD are beginning to take notice, forming partnerships with local nonprofits, schools and libraries to address the digital divide. Much work still needs to be done, though.
The hour-long discussion ended with one action item for the listening audience. In the same way many citizens posted comments to the FCC website about the net neutrality decision last year, we again need to raise our voices and contact our congressional representatives in Washington, D.C. to ensure open Internet policies continue to dominate the national discussion on digital inclusion.