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Connecticut’s Digital Equity Work Supports Regional Efforts

Digital Equity Program Manager Lauren Thompson on building a people-centered program, maximizing federal funding and making sure residents have the tools they need to get online in Connecticut.

Connecticut Digital Equity Program Manager Lauren Thompson
Lauren Thompson is the digital equity program manager for the state of Connecticut, a position that is housed within the state’s Commission for Educational Technology, which is part of the Department of Administrative Services. With a historic amount of federal funding for digital equity, Thompson is helping ensure that Connecticut makes the most of it. One big focus is designing programs and goals that enable success at a regional level.

1. What are Connecticut's digital equity priorities?

We’ve got a set of goals. The first is to promote the development of digital skills and technical support programs. That’s to put people first. We want a people-centered program, and those are the people-centered goals. The second is to increase public awareness of digital equity resources. Having available resources is one thing, but making sure the public is aware and can access those resources is totally different. The third is making sure residents have affordable options for getting online that meet their needs. The fourth is to support the development of accessible and inclusive digital government at state and local levels. Fifth is supporting a high-speed broadband infrastructure build-out, and sixth is fostering ongoing learning about digital equity best practices. Our plan starts with residents in mind, and it builds out from there.

2. What makes this a pivotal time for digital equity?

It’s getting harder to exist offline. You need to be able to get online to stay connected to people and to get things done. Digital equity work can be as simple as teaching people how to pay bills online or order groceries. It even offers the opportunity for people to attend public meetings that they otherwise might not have been able to attend. Those are small reasons why it’s important, but we’re relying more on technology every day. Keeping people up to date and giving them access to tools that make their lives easier really makes a difference — it’s really exciting work.

3. Why is it important for states to support digital equity?

A planning grant offered us a chance to do some research. We took a year and got to know our state and the resources available. That opened our eyes to the barriers that people are experiencing. Those barriers include cost, digital literacy and language. Digital equity has implications all over the place — it can support economic development, health and well-being, and civic participation. Digital equity supports people in ways that they walk through the world. It could change their career path or education path. It could give them better access to health care.

4. What are some of Connecticut’s digital equity projects?

We are starting work with our regional education service centers. We are looking for them to be our regional conveners. We want to make sure digital equity efforts hit every corner of the state, and this is how we’re starting. We’re hoping to start with a collaborative approach to convening and really make sure services are equitable throughout the region. Hopefully through this regional work, we’ll be able to tailor solutions to address the needs of our local communities. Next, we are hoping to develop our asset map to make it easier for organizations to be found and for users to gain awareness of what’s available. Third, we’re hoping to offer statewide subgrants for digital navigation, which puts the people at the front of this.

We are a technology-rich state. Internet is 99 percent available, but we do have an adoption issue. People need more than just getting a connection and device, but this is just the start of the work. Connecticut may have a large digital divide, but I think our plans are really going to get at the heart of what people need.

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.