California has taken a step towards addressing one of its lingering, pressing issues–the digital divide.
With the release of its draft Digital Equity Plan, the state aims to ensure that every resident has fair and equal access to the vast opportunities presented by the digital realm. This landmark initiative invites public participation, welcoming comments and contributions until January 25, 2024.
The draft positions California to receive Digital Equity Capacity Grants, a financial boost allocated under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.
A number of challenges plague Californians in their search for reliable broadband internet. Issues ranging from limited access to high-speed connections, expensive monthly bills, to a lack of digital literacy programs in certain regions hinder equitable access. The draft Digital Equity Plan aims to topple these obstacles, expanding on California’s Broadband for All Initiative. It seeks to achieve this by identifying a spectrum of programs and services aimed at ensuring broadband accessibility for all residents, including digital literacy training, the introduction of Digital Navigators as community technology facilitators, affordable device distribution, workforce training, and more.
California’s Chief Information Officer and Department of Technology Director, Liana Bailey-Crimmins, emphasized the significance of this plan in closing the digital gap within the state.
“This plan is a huge leap forward in our efforts to close the digital divide in California,” Bailey-Crimmins said in a press release. “By combining the invaluable input of our residents, partners, and stakeholders with strategic planning, we are positioning the state to secure essential Digital Equity Capacity Grants and creating a highly informed roadmap to eliminate the digital divide once and for all.”
The plan stemmed from an extensive engagement process involving over 50,000 Californians and encompassed the 2023 Statewide Digital Equity Public Surveys that utilized a randomized telephone poll and a mobile-friendly online questionnaire available in 14 languages.
Critical input was provided by the Statewide Digital Equity Planning Group, six Outcome Area Working Groups, and 20 in-person planning workshops conducted across the state. These platforms facilitated constructive discussions between residents and digital equity leaders, focusing on pivotal areas such as education, health, workforce and economic development, accessibility, and tribal collaboration.
The draft itself highlights eight “covered populations” that include Individuals living with an income at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, individuals over the age of 50, incarcerated individuals (excluding those incarcerated in a federal correctional facility), veterans, individuals with disabilities, individuals with language barriers, members of a racial or ethnic minority group, and individuals who primarily reside in a rural area.
85 percent of California’s population fall into one or more of those categories, and CDT aims to ensure they all have access to affordable broadband and necessary devices.
“Many residents still need access to broadband and internet services,” the draft reads. “Many more residents find home Internet service and devices to be unaffordable. And many Californians need to gain the digital skills necessary to utilize the Internet to the full extent possible.”