Digital Destitution

A Preview of Digital Destitution in California

California Connects: Combating Digital Destitution

“Me daba miedo usarlas [las computadoras] por que no son mías y si las descompongo me puedo endeudar…”
— I was afraid to use [the computers] because they were not mine, and if I messed them up, I would go into debt…

~ California Connects trainee, 43 years old

California Connects pioneered methods in answering the unique challenges and needs of economically disadvantaged individuals who are newly acquiring computer and Internet skills. Access to computers and training through California Connects helped dispel fear-based myths and change perspectives. As trainees developed their technological skills, their confidence in their ability to learn about and to use technology flourished.

California Connects demonstrated that computer and Internet skills improved with…

  • Patience, time, and repetition of basic computer functionality that built a solid foundation and awareness of accomplishment.
  • Shared language that encouraged participation and allowed questions to be comfortably asked and answered.
  • Relevant topics that encouraged practice outside of class, showcased value of new skills, and enhanced ability to compete in the workforce.

Life in a Digital World

Broadband technology is becoming ever more integral to workforce participation and daily activities. Computer and Internet skills are necessary to connect in today’s world.

An estimated one-fourth of households in the areas served by California Connects do not subscribe to any broadband services. According to an NTIA report, lower family incomes, employment rates, and educational levels correlate with a lack of Internet subscription. Significantly, the majority (57%) of household heads who said they had no need of the Internet had left the workforce. Read more about the evaluation team’s research on digital destitution…

Individuals and institutions that interact with the world via broadband-related technologies have a competitive advantage over those that do not. Being unable to use network technology therefore both reflects and recreates existing patterns of poverty and systemic inequality within California and across the United States. Without knowing how to interact with institutions and people via broadband, disadvantaged populations have difficulty finding and retaining jobs, participating in daily-life activities, and attaining a competitive education, and they pay more to do less. Our extensive qualitative research demonstrates this multiplier effect of technological inequality and social and economic inequality, which is the essence of digital destitution.

Digital Destitution: a state of disconnection from the vital economic, social, and institutional processes that depend on broadband technology.

In addition, our recent research demonstrates that this multiplier effect can be ameliorated through community-level investment in digital-inclusion programs; in particular, we are currently assessing the impact of California Connects (CC), a statewide program administered by the Foundation for California Community Colleges (FCCC) and funded by the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) administered by NTIA at the US Deptartment of Commerce.

At the societal level, broadband technology is becoming ever more integral to the development processes that enable economic production and facilitate daily activity and collaboration across physical space. Connected populations—i.e., those that have both the necessary equipment and the know-how to use it—are better equipped than disconnected populations to adjust to the increasing reliance on broadband in public life and to the constant changes in how online activity is carried out. They are therefore better situated to take advantage of economic-development opportunities, whereas populations and communities that do not have access to such technology and know-how are much more limited in their opportunities.

Of course, these effects are not unique to broadband. New technologies always create new demands in terms of individual abilities and infrastructure capacity, and social norms then change and adapt to those demands.


Broadband Adoption is a Social and Institutional Process
External Factors Alone


Changing social norms can lead to exclusion and marginalization of those who are not online; in other words, the costs of digital destitution are social as well as economic.

California Connects is tackling the problem in the most under served areas…


Distribution of California Disconnectedness



% based on broadband subscription rates

County Ownership Rates

Source: Digital Equality 2013

See more about this method…

Download a selection of the evaluation team’s research on digital destitution…

Connected populations—i.e., those that have both the necessary equipment and the know-how to use it—are equipped to adjust to the increasing reliance on broadband in public life and to the constant changes in how online activity is carried out. California Connects is improving and enriching people’s lives.

Hear the Voice of Digital Destitution


Click below to listen