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What's New in Digital Equity: Detroit Finds New Digital Equity Lead

Plus, Vermont is the latest state actively seeking resident input on its digital equity planning, Hawaii's state digital equity leader is honored by a pair of new awards, and more.

David Kidd
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:


Detroit has named Christine Burkette as the city's new digital equity director.

Burkette, a native of Detroit, comes to the role with a mix of experience in the public and private sectors. She is the founder of the IT firm Promising Integrations Consulting Firm Inc., which the city noted in its press release is to date the only female- and Black-owned IT consulting firm in all of Michigan. Burkette also served as the CIO for Detroit Public Schools from 2017 to 2018. She has also done tech work with General Motors.

The city's announcement said that Burkette will work with the Detroit City Council to create a digital equity strategy that is greatly informed by input from the city's residents, pushed forward by a data-driven approach. She plans to continue partnering with Connect 313 on the work, as well as with local industry and philanthropic leaders.

“Detroit has always been hailed as a mecca of innovation, and I came to work at the city to make sure Detroiters have equal access to high-speed Internet they need to educate, train for and win the jobs of the future,” said Burkette in a statement. “We have to increase expectations, accountability and outcomes around a sustained plan to close the digital divide for good.”

Burkette is the permanent replacement for Detroit's inaugural digital equity director, Joshua Edmonds, who departed the city last year for the CEO position at DigitalC, a Cleveland-based nonprofit that also works on digital equity. During Detroit's national search for Edmonds' replacement, digital equity work in the city was lead by Operations Director for Connect 313 Autumn Evans and Detroit's digital equity manager, Oscar Chapa. (Zack Quaintance)


Vermont is now encouraging its residents to weigh in on its digital equity planning, becoming the latest state to start the public input portion of the planning process for the $2.75 billion for digital inclusion being made available by the federal government.

The money, which is part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is designed to reach local digital equity programs by filtering down from the feds through each state's governor's office. All 50 states have received planning grants from the federal government that they are now using to build comprehensive digital equity plans in the next year or so before the bulk of the money is allocated. Part of this planning process involves a 30-day period for public feedback about statewide digital equity.

In Vermont's announcement, officials noted that the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) has been appointed to administer the state's digital equity programs. So far, the board has received the aforementioned planning grant, and it has also issued an RFP for contractors to help with stakeholder outreach and engagement.

This planning process looks different in every state, given the hyperlocalized nature of digital inclusion work. One can reasonably also expect the feedback the states receive to vary in equal measure.

At the federal level, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will also be holding a series of virtual listening sessions related to digital equity programs in the coming months.

Comments are due for the Vermont series by May 1, and they can be submitted online here. (Zack Quaintance)


In other state news, Burt Lum, state broadband coordinator of the Hawai’i Broadband and Digital Equity Office, has recently received two awards for his digital equity work in the state. Earlier this month during Net Inclusion 2023, he was awarded the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award; he also was recognized as a Hall of Fame Laureate by The Junior Achievement of Hawai‘i.

“I firmly believe that these awards are a testament to the entire community — particularly those in the Broadband Hui — who are working day in and day out to increase digital literacy education and advocating for digital equity in Hawaii,” said Lum in the announcement.

Lum was one of the conveners of the Hawai‘i Broadband Hui, which brought together over 500 partners to work together to bridge the state’s digital divide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Julia Edinger)


The city of West Hollywood has launched its first major free outdoor public Wi-Fi network, WeHo Wi-Fi. Any Internet-enabled device should be able to connect to the network.

“With the rapid growth of technology and the increasing demand for connectivity, the city believes that providing free outdoor public Wi-Fi is an important service that can make a significant difference in the lives of people who live, work and visit West Hollywood,” states the website.

The network spans Santa Monica Boulevard using Wi-Fi 6 access points located at traffic lights and select transit shelters. The city does not collect any personal information, however, the system will collect statistics on device type and Wi-Fi usage. (Julia Edinger)


In other state-level digital equity and inclusion news, more state governments are working to get their residents signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which — as the name implies — aims to make high-speed Internet connections affordable.

The latest state to do so is Kansas, which has now launched a statewide initiative to boost adoption there for the ACP. In the state's announcement for this work, officials noted that 438,634 Kansas households are eligible for the ACP, but so far only 93,244 households there have signed up for it. That comes out to a roughly 21 percent adoption rate among ACP-eligible households in Kansas.

The state is going to partner with EducationSuperHighway — a national nonprofit — on this work, coming together to create a coalition of local-level stakeholders, Internet service providers, nonprofit groups and institutions of higher learning. In the service of this work, EducationSuperHighway will train community leaders and partner groups to spread outreach materials that will help eligible households enroll in the ACP.

The ACP is a $14.2 billion federal broadband benefit, which typically gives eligible households a monthly discount of up to $30 a month on Internet ($75 a month for households on tribal lands), as well as a one-time $100 discount to purchase a device that can be used to access the Internet. (Zack Quaintance)


A recent report released this week by Amdocs, The Changing Divide Report 2023, reveals that 89 percent of U.S. consumers have reliable Internet access.

However, the report also details remaining challenges in bridging the digital divide. For example, while the number of households with more than nine connected devices has nearly doubled since 2021, this is true for only 13 percent of low-income households. And even with reliable Internet, almost 32 percent of consumers still report problems.

In addition, the report states that although about half of consumers are happy with their home Internet service, nearly two-thirds are concerned about how new technology, like the metaverse, may increase the digital divide. This is increasingly essential because 84 percent of consumers now consider Internet a necessity, like running water. (Julia Edinger)
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.