Using Data to Double Down on Digital Equity and Inclusion Efforts

December 22, 2021

What are the risks if we don’t? What are the opportunities if we do?

Meghan McDermott, Director for Digital Inclusion and Partnerships, City of New York, NY, during the virtual panel discussion hosted by the National League of Cities on December 9th for the launch of their new Digital Equity Playbook.

These are the high-level questions that cities and their community partners should use to guide their efforts to improve broadband access and affordability.

The National League of Cities recently released its “Digital Equity Playbook: How City Leaders Can Bridge the Digital Divide” containing a wealth of resources to point leaders in the right direction as they address broadband connectivity gaps in their communities. Between key definitions, case studies, research and resource listings, the Digital Equity Needs Assessment is a highlight of the playbook. This handy data exploration tool allows cities to drill into their jurisdictions for information across three categories: Affordability, Accessibility and Skills. The tool also enables cross-comparison with other cities and national benchmarks. Have a look below:

screenshot of Digital Equity Needs Assessment user interface
In the top-left search bar, you type the name of your city. Then click one of the three boxes to navigate to a data dashboard.

screenshot of Affordability dashboard
As an example, here is the Affordability dashboard for Adairsville displaying poverty rate, percentage of households without a computer, levels of smart device ownership and a chart comparing the city to others in Georgia.

screenshot of accessibility dashboard
The Accessibility dashboard displays average Internet download and upload speeds, percentage households without Internet access and number of Internet providers.

screenshot of Digital Equity Needs Assessment user interface
The Skills dashboard displays data on Internet usage at the city library (or libraries).

screenshot of comparison with other cities
You can even compare data for your city with the national average and other cities nationwide in a simple table.

About a month ago, the White House passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), setting aside $65 billion to ensure high-speed, affordable and reliable Internet for every American. Included in that topline number is $2.7 billion to promote digital equity and inclusion.

Furthermore, funding from the American Rescue Plan Act – half of which has already been disbursed, the other half arriving in mid-2022 –specifies investment in broadband deployment as an eligible use. The Interim Final Rule published by Treasury to guide the use of ARPA funds explicitly calls for broadband programs to target unserved and underserved areas. Under this approach, projects can go a long way toward achieving greater equity and inclusion.

With such significant amounts of funding on the table, city leaders must double down on their due diligence to understand the diverse needs within their community and identify the right players to engage. Community anchor institutions like schools, libraries and healthcare providers are key. With BIL funding not expected until at least late 2022, cities can take advantage of this ‘lead time’ between the announcement and disbursement of funds to strategize and plan. Ongoing dialogue with the public should accompany every step. That way, when funds are available or it comes time to apply for a grant, leaders are better positioned to spend dollars in ways that have the greatest impact.

NLC’s new playbook – and its assessment tool – is available now to support city leaders in developing data-driven solutions to their communities’ connectivity challenges. The data tools on GMA’s website also provide a one-stop shop to search demographic, economic and social data on your city. Bookmark these for easy reference!


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