Digital Inclusion Week 2022

Beaver County celebrates #DigitalInclusionWeek, October 3-7, 2022

Celebrate Digital Inclusion Week 2022!

As we work to bring broadband to every resident across Beaver County, we also recognize that access to the Internet depends on more than having a service provider available. The Connect Beaver County initiative allocates nearly $20 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to bring high-speed internet to the communities across the county that need it most. Along with delivering new broadband service, Beaver County has dedicated some of these funds towards developing a program to offer computer assistance and training. The Beaver County Commissioners value digital inclusion highly and are investing in increasing digital inclusion for all residents.

What is Digital Inclusion?

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) defines digital inclusion as the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This includes five elements: 

  1. Affordable, robust broadband Internet service;
  2. Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user;
  3. Access to digital literacy training;
  4. Quality technical support; and
  5. Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration.

Why Does Digital Inclusion Matter?

In Beaver County, 1,930 households still lack broadband service. The Connect Beaver County initiative aims to bring service to every single one of those locations. 

According to a 2021 countywide survey:  

  • 25% of residents travel to other locations to access Wi-Fi – coffee shops and libraries are the most common destinations  
  • Before COVID-19, 16% worked from home always; 10% often; and 22% occasionally.  
  • Since COVID-19, those numbers jumped to 35% worked from home always; 22% often; and 16% occasionally.  

Access to the Internet made a huge difference in the working patterns and lifestyles of many workers, but those without reliable Internet and/or without the skills to work online did not get to partake in this shift.  

Of the most common uses for the Internet, work and education were the top two priorities. Social communication and shopping/information gathering were similarly valued, both important during a pandemic as in-person activities were limited or unavailable. The cost to those without access is huge: the emotional toll of not connecting with people, the health toll of risking in-person shopping during a pandemic; the financial toll of lost income or educational opportunities.   

Common Inclusion Terms & Meanings

Digital Equity

Digital equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. 

Digital Literacy

Digital Literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills. 

National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA)

The NDIA advances digital equity by supporting community programs and equipping policymakers to act. NDIA combines grassroots community engagement with technical knowledge, research, and coalition building to advocate on behalf of people working in their communities for digital equity.

Find more resources related to digital inclusion and digital literacy visit: https://www.digitalinclusion.org/

How Beaver County is Doing More

Digital Navigator Program

One of the projects underway through the Connect Beaver County initiative is the development and implementation of a countywide digital navigator program. The digital navigator program seeks to help residents gain the skills and confidence necessary to connect online and benefit from the many resources and opportunities the internet provides.   

Beaver County has engaged local nonprofit Tech2Elevate to execute the program and tailor it to the needs of local residents. Trained staff members will be paired with members of the public who request assistance with using a computer, understanding how to follow safe practices online, learning popular software, navigating online websites and filling out forms, and much more.   

Tech2Elevate has been consulting with numerous stakeholders on the County’s behalf to identify potential locations — such as libraries and municipal buildings. Providing equitable access to a digital navigator from anywhere in the county is a priority. 

The Beaver County digital navigator (known locally as Digital Coach) program is expected to launch in 2023. Stay tuned for more information about locations, schedule, and contact information as the program is finalized.  

Digital Affordability Programs

Beaver County residents have numerous options to help cover the costs associated with Internet service, as well as with purchasing a computer or similar devices. Regardless to what provider you subscribe, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is the premier federal program available that may offer you, if eligible, $30 toward your monthly internet bill and up to $100 on the purchase of a computer or internet-enabled device. This is an income-based program, so residents qualify if their annual income is less than 200% of the poverty level or if they participate in any one of a number of other assistance programs. The application process requires several steps, beginning with creating an account through the FCC link below and uploading proof of eligibility as needed. Once eligibility is approved by the FCC, residents then have to apply through their Internet service provider as well.

Many individual providers in Beaver County do participate in the FCC Affordable Connectivity Program. The $30 monthly discount can be applied to their regular plans to achieve a total monthly cost as low as $0. Armstrong Cable, Century Link, Comcast/Xfinity, GoNetspeed, and Verizon participate.

To learn more and apply, visit https://www.fcc.gov/acp

Here are other programs for which you may qualify:

The FCC Lifeline Program is a federal program that offers up to $9.25 off the cost of phone, internet, or bundled services. This is an income-based program, so residents qualify if their annual income is less than 135% of the poverty level or if they participate in any one of a number of other assistance programs. To learn more and apply, visit https://www.lifelinesupport.org/get-started/ 

For those who do not qualify for income-based programs, Xfinity offers Internet Essentials for $9.95/month and covers many areas of Beaver County. To learn more and apply, visit https://www.internetessentials.com/  

How can you celebrate digital inclusion week?

  1. Find a digital literacy event in your area. The more you know, the better you will be able to help others.  
  2. Hold a donation drive. Collect donations of used computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and other personal equipment to redistribute to others. 
  3. Join the conversation! #DIW22 #DigitalEquity #DigitalInclusionWeek 

 

Read the press release here.