Advocates and Faith Leaders Discuss Solutions to Expand Access to Affordable, Reliable Broadband, Devices and Skills to Improve Digital Equity
On Thursday, faith leaders and digital equity advocates came together for a roundtable hosted by Microsoft and Connect Americans Now (CAN), in partnership with Values Partnerships, to discuss the importance of completely eliminating the digital divide in every community — and the role communities of faith can play in advocating for solutions to improve digital equity.
Moderator Joshua DuBois, CEO of Values Partnerships was joined by panelists Jasmine Thomas, Senior Director of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, Dr. Fallon Wilson, Vice President of Policy at the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC), and Jon Conradi, Outreach Director of CAN, to discuss the digital divide, opportunities to maximize the positive impact of broadband infrastructure programs and areas for continued advocacy to ensure every American community, particularly communities of color and income insecure areas, achieve equitable access to broadband and digital technology.
Read more on what panelists said during the roundtable here:
Jasmine Thomas, Senior Director, Microsoft Airband Initiative:
We need to have a meaningful conversation about what’s actually happening in communities… if you’re looking at how communities develop, where infrastructure exists, we know where that is and we know where it is not, and I think the last few years just really put a spotlight on the gaps and the misses when it comes to access to infrastructure and particularly broadband … In theory you should have the vast majority of the country connected to broadband but during the pandemic we learned fairly quickly when you had a connection and when you didn’t, and the consequences of that…
… And so the first issue is a data problem and Microsoft has worked extremely hard to focus and lead with data… one of the things that’s really compelling for us was initially mapping out what was true based on published research and then using our own knowledge as a tech company to understand where connections were happening and at what speeds and that’s really, for us, where I think we have the opportunity to lead…
… When you compound access to affordable housing, or access to affordable services — access at all — you start to see where the gaps are…We need to start demanding and asking for meaningful conversations about how to connect our communities. Again, it starts with a data conversation, it starts with knowing who’s leading broadband investments and where funding and how funding flows.”
Dr. Fallon Wilson, Vice President of Policy at the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC)
“You got to have internet access, you got to be able to afford it, that’s why we have the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is an internet subsidy, you got a Pell grant [for education] and now you have money for the internet right? But it’s also about once you get it, and you have high speed internet, how do you use it…
…We’ve had Lifeline for phone access, but this is the first time that we have a commitment from our national government that says that they see that the need to make sure that all citizens … that you can get access to the internet and why? Because it is transforming everything.”
Jon Conradi, Outreach Director, Connect Americans Now:
“Understanding where this problem actually lies and making smart, equitable investments in tackling the problem. The FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, is the government entity that’s responsible for mapping the digital divide for saying this is where access to broadband is, this where there’s not access to broadband, and that agency says there are only about 14 million Americans who lack access to broadband services at home. We know from other studies that there’s as many as 42 million Americans that don’t have access at home and we know from the data work that Jasmine referenced from Microsoft that even as many as 120 million Americans, a massive number, when they actually get on the internet, are not accessing the internet at broadband speeds…
… $65 billion was allocated toward broadband by the bipartisan infrastructure bill in Congress, more than $40 billion of that is going to be going directly to states to administer as long as they get plans approved by the federal government… The federal government put guidance on those dollars that said [states] have to incorporate into their plans feedback from community digital equity stakeholders — and so your voice can be so important because [states] are actually required by the federal guidance for this funding for broadband internet to consult with stakeholders in the community on how to invest those dollars most effectively, most equitably.”
Joshua DuBois, CEO, Values Partnerships:
“We all know that access to high-speed internet… is important but also uneven sometimes in urban communities and rural areas, specifically with people of color. Communities need this internet access, they need it to learn, we saw that during the pandemic, to work, particularly as folks are going virtual, to shop, pay bills… and they need it to not just exist, but to be affordable.”
Learn more about Microsoft’s new digital equity dashboard that can help advocates and policymakers use data to target the digital divide HERE.
Learn more about how federal agencies can maximize the effectiveness of bipartisan infrastructure resources to eliminate the digital divide HERE.
Read more on Connect Americans Now (CAN) and our mission HERE.