Closing the digital divide

The Internet is a major part of our lives.  If we need an answer, we Google it.  If we want to stay connected with friends and family, we use Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter. Students need the Internet to create and submit homework. Families use it to find information on Lincoln’s community services via myLNK. Need to check on your Veteran or Medicaid benefits?  Need to take the GED or apply for a job?  Want to start a new or grow an existing business? All of these require a connection to the Internet.

Lincoln is becoming a gigabit community, with availability of Internet speeds we couldn’t have dreamed of even five years ago. However, not all Lincolnites are able to take advantage of this advance. This means that our community, as a whole, isn’t prospering as fast or as far as we could. This digital divide needs a strategy for digital inclusion.

The Prosper Lincoln community agenda identified technology as a critical part of building a stronger ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship. A viable digital inclusion strategy for Lincoln improves employability; increases educational opportunity; improves city economic competitiveness; and enhances digital quality of life and engagement. So, the Prosper Lincoln Innovation and Entrepreneurship focus area has convened a group of individuals and small businesses to meet and discuss the digital divide in our city. They will put together a digital inclusion plan with overarching recommendations for how we can all benefit from being a gigabit community. Access to the internet, training, hardware – it all matters.

The three main pillars of the plan will be:

  1. Connectivity/internet access (broadband) – among the things we’ll address is working with the City of Lincoln, internet service providers and other interested parties, on how we best communicate the offerings/tiers for service especially with regards to the most under-served areas of our city.
  2. Hardware/equipment – while handheld devices such as smart phones are popular and certainly a must have to function in this digital world, they are not the answer to everything. People need portable devices like laptops/tablets to do more. How do we get more people the tools they need at a greatly reduced cost? Or in some cases, free.
  3. Literacy/education/skills/training – access and equipment are not enough. We need to provide educational offerings for people to better understand what Lincoln being a Smart Gigabit Community means for them and how they can learn to use it all to make for a better life for themselves/family.

The group is reviewing market data specific to Lincoln and learning from Kansas City, Charlotte and Austin – cities already engaged in doing this important work. We can gain insights on what makes for success and scale it appropriately for Lincoln.

What we do know already, is that our city has in abundance public and private telecommunications infrastructure; private broadband providers; public and private financial resources and expertise; collective spirit to address the causes of the Digital Divide; and the collective determination to ensure that everyone, regardless of economic status, has access to affordable broadband services and the devices, training, knowledge, and skills to effectively utilize broadband services in their homes.

All of this will help pursue the bold vision to implement a comprehensive plan to eliminate the Digital Divide in Lincoln within 10 years or sooner.