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Centering Digital Equity

The digital divide has a far-reaching impact on already underrepresented communities. An inability to access and utilize digital resources prevents individuals from fully contributing to, or being seen by, their communities and society at large. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the effects of existing digital inequities as many schools, public services, and healthcare have moved programs and services online for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile large segments of Indigenous, Black, Brown, rural, and low-income residents are simply unable to get online.

That is among the many reasons why digital equity must be at the core of effective broadband access and adoption strategies. Communities that prioritize digital inclusion can help reduce poverty, increase educational opportunities, improve public health, and boost civic participation. NCC is committed to highlighting solutions for existing digital inequities and models that incorporate digital equity into broadband deployment plans. Importantly, NCC provides unique platforms for local officials and community leaders to share their own connectivity stories in their own words, so that solutions can be tailored to community-specific needs.

Build a Community Movement

Posted September 04, 2020

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Community interest in and support of high-speed internet is imperative when attempting to attract investment and competition, and is critical to the long-term sustainability of local projects. Hosting events, engaging the community in conversation, and maintaining high transparency can bolster constituent engagement.

Charlotte, North Carolina began a grassroots campaign called Charlotte Hearts Gigabit when Google Fiber announced that they were considering expanding to the city. Community members were concerned that there wasn’t enough citizen interest in high-speed internet, so Charlotte Hearts Gigabit was formed to begin a conversation in the hopes that it would help attract Google.

Charlotte Hearts Gigabit engaged citizens by talking about how gigabit internet would positively impact individuals and the community. The group discussed specific use cases and hosted in-person events and hands-on demonstrations of applications and technology powered by high-speed internet.

Not only did Google Fiber decide to invest in Charlotte, but AT&T announced plans to offer fiber service in the city, and Time Warner Cable increased its speeds. The robust community interest in high-speed internet encouraged investment in the city and eventually led to a more competitive local market. The initiative has since expanded into a statewide effort – NC Hearts Gigabit – to attract, support, and champion the universal availability of broadband in North Carolina.

Next Century Cities is a non-profit membership organization of over 190 communities, founded to support communities and their elected leaders, including mayors and other officials, as they seek to ensure that all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable internet access. Next Century Cities celebrates broadband successes in communities, demonstrates their value, and helps other cities to realize the full power of truly high-speed, affordable, and accessible broadband. For more information, visit www.nextcenturycities.org .

Even if a project isn’t yet underway, maintaining transparency through consistent updates helps maintain interest and trust. For example, Larimer County, Colorado created a newsletter to share updates about broadband projects. While Fort Collins was considering building a network, the city launched an interactive map on which residents could drop pins where they wanted fiber built, in addition to a broadband project website that could be visited for updates and information. The city also hosted several public outreach sessions to engage citizens.

A grassroots group was also formed in Fort Collins to keep the momentum going. The group Broadband & Beers is a self-described “independent, public outreach group founded… to inform residents and educate decision-makers about bringing municipal gigabit internet service to communities across the country.” The group hosted frequent events at breweries to talk about the city’s path to municipal broadband, and also led a social media campaign that organically reached tens of thousands of voters.

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