The Broadband Lifeline in a Pandemic: Digital Equity for Human Empowerment

Cat Blake, Civic Technology Analyst

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has all of us searching for solutions—for health and safety, reassurance and comfort, education and employment. Many have heralded internet access as the solution that can address these problems. It’s true that universal access to robust, affordable broadband is paramount; this crisis has exposed, more so than ever, the necessity of internet access. But internet access is not a solution. It’s a critical tool—the most powerful in the world—and the solution is us.

We are a country of multitudes. What each of us needs right now is different, as individuals and as communities. From FaceTiming a grandparent, to depositing a check, to being able to participate in a conversation about meaningful policy change, the internet is the tool that gives us the ability to work together to solve our own problems.

By making it a priority to extend access to this tool to every person in this country, we are both empowering individuals and strengthening our team by putting more players on the roster.

My time as Senior Program Manager at Next Century Cities gave me the opportunity to experience firsthand the diversity and determination of communities in our country. I had the privilege of working with major cities, rural mountain towns, remote Tribal communities, and everything in between. For all their differences, these communities share both a common goal of achieving universal internet access, and the grit that’s necessary to make it happen.

While the connectivity solutions are as varied as the communities themselves, there’s a recognizable determination in the decision to run a three-mile undersea cable, deploy fiber via a mule named Old Bub, or climb your own rooftops, home-assembled Ethernet cables in hand.

I’m thrilled for the opportunity to join CTC and work with communities to plan for equity in civic technology. The path toward digital equity isn’t simple, but we know there is such a path—in fact, there are many. They involve collaborative plans to address not just infrastructure, but affordability, device access, digital literacy, and trust, to start.

True digital equity goes far beyond technology deployment. We can’t simply layer technology on top of our existing structural inequities and expect those inequities to be solved; we need to thoughtfully apply technology to people-first solutions that take into account our communities’ needs and goals. When we do this, we empower our strongest assets: our people.

Yes, the internet is an essential tool, but its power comes from people. That’s all the more reason to make universal accessibility a priority—today and well into the future. We are all stronger when we’re all connected.

Published: Thursday, April 16, 2020 by CTC Technology & Energy