In this issue of our Tech for Good Series, we’re opening up the dialogue on digital equity and how private foundations can lend their voices and dollars to support those who don’t have access to broadband internet. We’re also tapping into our own internal philanthropic experts as well as getting outside perspectives to understand more about this important topic.
Why It Matters Most Now
As we enter the start of a new school year and grapple with the realities of a tight labor market, the need for digital equity is once again highlighted. In a report earlier this year, Closing the Digital Skill Divide, from the National Skills Coalition in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, a whopping 92% of jobs analyzed require digital skills. The report also echoes previous findings in Candid’s 2022 research brief that the digital divide disproportionally impacts rural residents, workers of color and low-income individuals due to structural inequities.
Technology and AI have the potential to change a lot of jobs. Just one example—air travelers check themselves in and tag their own luggage at the airport now with the help of technology. The worker who was previously responsible for those tasks is now there for a different reason—to make sure the system is working. Training for these new and emerging jobs requires access to broadband, which is no longer a luxury but a necessity.
And in a recent article by EducationWeek, digital equity isn’t just about providing students with devices and internet access. “When it comes to bridging the digital divide, if our teachers can’t provide meaningful learning experiences, it doesn’t matter if kids can connect,” said Camille Cole, a digital teaching and learning specialist, during a presentation at the International Society for Technology in Education conference in June. “It really isn’t just enough to have those physical devices and access to the broadband or the internet.”
So, what can school districts do to bridge that digital divide? According to Cole who co-wrote a research study on the response of state education and district leaders in Utah to the digital divide during the COVID-19 remote learning, there are four components:
- motivation and positive attitude
- physical access
- digital skills
- consistent tools
The Digital Equity Act
According to the Pew Research Center, only 63% of rural Americans report having broadband access and those who do pay an average of 37% more for broadband than urban subscribers as of March 2021. That same year, the Digital Equity Act of 2021 was established to provide $2.75 billion to three grant programs that promote digital equity and inclusion. The act recognizes that broadband connection and digital literacy are essential for an equitable society. Without access to high-speed internet, people are restricted from healthcare, education and careers.
What Can Private Foundations Do To Address The Digital Divide?
Ensuring that grant dollars get to organizations that can implement broadband plans is a challenge. Private foundations are assisting with the solution to these problems by making grants to operational organizations with boots on the ground in the areas that need internet access and training the most.
“Private foundation partnerships or co-funding with government dollars is incredibly valuable to local nonprofits because they can support capacity building and partnership building,” said Rachel Jagoda Burnette, philanthropic director at Foundation Source. “They can fill in gaps where the government programs don’t allow funding to go, and they can stretch the dollars so that the funding can last longer, have a greater reach or provide some kind of local support that isn’t covered by government dollars.”
According to a 2022 report by Connect Humanity, a community collective that invests in initiatives that support the implementation of the government grant funds, two of the largest barriers of being connected to the internet are access and infrastructure.
To learn more about what foundations can do, we caught up with Calum Cameron, communications manager with Connect Humanity. “There’s lots you can do right now, whether that’s investing in the digital capacity of your grantees or funding digital initiatives directly,” said Cameron. “The most important thing is to get started and learn as you go. This issue can’t wait, and with billions of dollars coming from the US government, philanthropic funders have a huge opportunity to shape the direction of this investment and make it work for the communities they care about.”
The Impact of Infrastructure
Poor quality of infrastructure and issues with internet providers are significant. What does this mean? Those maps that the various cell phone providers show on their commercials are more than just pretty pictures. They represent real areas where people feel totally cut off from access to education, career mobility and even healthcare because they don’t have reliable access to the internet. Two of the main issues are enrollment and adoption—and cost is also a significant issue.
In January 2022, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) was launched to serve the almost 10 million households that were transitioned from the Emergency Broadband benefit program (EBB). By the end of 2022, it had enrolled another 5.4 million households. There is an estimation that 55.3 million households are eligible for the ACP funding, which is a national rate of approximately 28%. However, the rate of growth in new enrollments has slowed down considerably.
The red in this map represents where participation rates are lagging.
“Access to connectivity is a crucial tool for organizations working in economic empowerment, education or rural development,” said Rachel. “The need exists across the country, especially in many rural areas. Foundations working with any disadvantaged populations may find it interesting to explore the intersection of digital equity with their work.”
Here at Foundation Source, we help our foundation clients through tools that are designed to make it easy for funders to find verified charities that work in their key areas of interest. The Charity Search feature of Impactfully helps you search for organizations by keywords that are meaningful to your mission. Right from the operational dashboard, a quick search will show you which nonprofits fit your giving goals.
The digital equity conversation continues as government grant dollars are put to use. New tools to help evaluation are also always being devised such as the new Digital Equity Dashboard. Using technology to help improve access to technology is just one step in the right direction.
Want to learn more about how you can support digital equity?
Reach out to your regional grantmaking association to get started.
Have a Question?
Schedule a call with us or reach us at 800-839-0054. Together, let’s #begiving.