“The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift. And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.”

~ President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

California Connects is Working Towards Digital Equality

Digital Equality: All individuals have equal opportunity for connecting independently to the social and economic benefits that the Internet offers. This tenet means:

  • Affordable access to vital technology and Internet service connection
  • Equal right to training in order to use technology for daily functions and to gain benefit

Digital equality is based on Digital Inclusion: participation in the economic, social, political, and institutional processes that technology facilitates.

Building Broadband Connections

The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), administered by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) at the US Department of Commerce, enabled the creation of California Connects and the in-depth research of its programs. Funded under President Barack Obama’s The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, BTOP is designed to jumpstart the nation’s economy by the diffusion of broadband adoption to under-served populations in under-served areas throughout the United States. At the highest levels of public policy, lawmakers for the first time approved The National Broadband Plan: Connecting America.

This push toward digital equality is becoming ever more widespread, and notable efforts include:

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a pilot program to reach low-income Americans by creating a Lifeline Broadband Pilot Program for providing low-cost broadband services.
  • The NTIA released a series of comprehensive reports to document and assess national broadband adoption.
  • In 2010, the California Broadband Council (CBC) was established (S.B. 1462 – Padilla) for broadband network deployment and to address the challenges of the digital divide.
  • In California, NTIA’s State Broadband Data and Development (SBDD) Grant Program is collecting information through the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) about the statewide availability of computers and Internet service providers.

These and other efforts demonstrate the growing awareness of the critical role of broadband in today’s world.

Outreach and Education

Readily available and affordable access to vital technologies is a key element in increasing broadband adoption. New adopters succeed through a combination of available infrastructure — such as computers and Internet — and education about the opportunities created by broadband and guidance in how to use it. The inclusion of a Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) component focusing on public education and outreach in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) is a major step toward achieving digital equality.

By studying California Connects, the research team has uncovered a number of broader research findings about the complex social and institutional process of broadband adoption. The team’s investigation is generating…

  • Recommendations for action that will help institutions in structuring similar programs in the future.
  • Information for policymakers about potential new adopters that will aid in planning future funding initiatives that include educational components.
  • A comprehensive, research-based understanding of how best to design programs that will prepare community-college students and community members to function within changing social structures, including formal-educational structures, and to carry out basic daily activities online.

Principles of democracy demand national policies and local practices that ensure digital equality in every community and advance participation and gains in technology development.