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What’s New in Digital Equity: Data Shows Digital Divide Progress

Plus, new bipartisan legislation at the federal level is taking aim at increasing access to rural broadband, Pennsylvania is working to expand broadband across the entirety of the commonwealth, and more.

A city skyline with lines criscrossing through the sky above it to indicate connectivity.
This week in “What’s New in Digital Equity” — our weekly look at government digital equity and broadband news — we have a number of interesting items, which you can jump to with the links below:


A new analysis of government data by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society found that the United States as a whole is making some progress toward closing the digital divide.

While experts in the space often say the digital divide is never going to be all the way closed — technology evolves too quickly for digital skills training to sufficiently keep up with it — there are some metrics you can look toward, including those related to broadband adoption. The analysis looked at data from the American Community Survey that showed wireline broadband adoption rose by 4.7 points between 2019 and 2021. That is more than twice the 2 points of growth that occurred between 2017 and 2019.

As the Benton analysis notes, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a new push toward closing the digital divide, with policymakers and community leaders launching new programs to get households connected. Specifically, Benton pointed to Congress creating the Emergency Broadband Benefit and subsequently the Affordable Connectivity Program.

More information about this analysis can be found on Benton’s website. (Zack Quaintance)


The Rural Internet Improvement Act was introduced earlier this week. This bipartisan legislation aims to ensure that funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s rural development broadband programs is going to the rural communities that need it most. Currently, rural communities often have to look to creative solutions, like partnerships, to advance digital equity.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. John Thune, Ben Ray Luján, Amy Klobuchar, and Deb Fischer. If passed, it would restructure the Rural e-Connectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect) in several ways. It would merge and codify the ReConnect program with USDA’s traditional broadband loan and grant program, ensure ReConnect funding is going to areas where at least 90 percent of households lack access to broadband service, remove participation barriers, and increase transparency and participation. (Julia Edinger)


Announced earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA) has released the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Statewide Broadband Plan to address connectivity needs for residents in the short and long term.

The plan acknowledges that up to 800,000 Pennsylvanians are currently unserved. Strategies to address this gap include leveraging data, reducing deployment obstacles, supporting a skilled workforce, providing digital literacy training and more.

The plan was unanimously approved on Nov. 17 by the authority, which was established in December 2021 to help the commonwealth manage federal funding. More information on specific strategies, including funding opportunities and actionable steps, can be found in the plan. (Julia Edinger)


Closing out National Native American Heritage Month for 2022, the departments of the Interior (DOI) and Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission announced new initiatives to modernize electromagnetic spectrum access and technology on tribal lands. The announcement was made earlier this week at the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit.

First, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) will enable all electromagnetic spectrum access and employment of other wireless services on tribal lands. Second, the establishment of an Office of Indigenous Communications and Technology (OICT) will help tribal entities manage and develop new technological services. Both efforts aim to promote tribal self-determination.

“Tapping into these airwaves will unlock economic, educational and healthcare opportunities for Tribal communities,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in the announcement. (Julia Edinger)


In other White House news, the Biden administration has announced a $73 million award to nine recipients as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, the federal government has announced.

These new grants bring the total dispersed by the program overall to $1.655 billion, spread across 121 tribal entities. Funding for these grants is made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The grants are aimed at expanding high-speed Internet deployment as well as digital skills training, with the goal of improving access to education, jobs, health care and other resources.

The full announcement can be found on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s website. (Zack Quaintance)


Finally, a new report has created a digital equity measurement framework, along with accompanying tools that local coalitions doing the work can use to advance digital inclusion.

This report is the work of the Digital Equity Research Center (DERC) at the Metropolitan New York Library Council, and it is titled Digital Equity Ecosystems Measurement Framework. The findings in the report were drawn from a research project that included 32 digital equity and digital justice coalition leaders across the country. It was their ideas that informed the creation of the report’s framework, which it has dubbed Digital Equity Ecosystems Measurement (DEEM).

In creating all of this, the authors of the report cite a need within the digital equity field “for conceptual frameworks and measurement tools to assist local coalitions in gathering data for planning, improvement, and advocacy purposes.”

Interested parties can read the report in full online. (Zack Quaintance)
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology</i>. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.