Moving into 2022 with True Digital Equity on the Horizon
SimpliGov CEO, Gary Leikin speaks to bridging the digital divide and its impact on modernizing government
According to a recent study, 27.6 million (22.5%) of US households don’t have home internet. The study also found that over a quarter million (265,331) American households still use dial-up internet and that the least connected states are Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. What’s more, according to the FTC, 14.5 million Americans still do not have access to internet service at the current standard: download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second.
This problem, known as the digital divide gap, can be summed up as the gap in access to information and modern communication technology between different groups of people. This gap disproportionately affects underprivileged members of society. In particular, the elderly, those in poverty, individuals living in rural settings, and those experiencing systemic permanent disenfranchisement (homelessness).
An example of past disenfranchisement that has been rectified in the past few months, is the fact that taxpayers were made to jump through a variety of hoops to set up an online account with the IRS if they did not have a credit card or mortgage. 21% of U.S. consumers do not have a credit card, leaving a significant number of people without many options to access their IRS account. This policy has since been changed with the option to verify an identity through ID.Me.
How is this divide being bridged?
The recent $1.2 Trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Package promises to address this issue head-on in a calculated push towards Digital Equity.
$65 billion of those dollars are going directly to expanding broadband connectivity. A further $2.75 billion of the package is devoted specifically to digital equity and inclusion programs -- aimed at educating people with technology skills, and providing access to the devices they need to stay connected.
While this is a national initiative, an enormous amount of the work involved in delivering Digital Equity will fall to state and local government. Citizens who are given greater digital access are happier, but delivering that access means the government must be omnichannel. If an agency is trying to engage with the underserved, for instance, mobile access becomes important, since it’s the only web access many lower-income groups may possess. Today, 15% of American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users – meaning they own a smartphone, but do not have traditional home broadband service, making it extremely difficult for them to navigate things like spreadsheets and PDFs.
Preparing for the next chapter
An initiative as ambitious as the Digital Equity portion of the package will run up against its share of challenges. Building the actual infrastructure to support digital engagement is one of them. However, the upside to the investment could be colossal.
Some localities have already taken measures to advance accessibility. The Sonoma County Safety Net is one noteworthy example of how some localities have begun leading the way on this front. For instance, one initiative that was enacted that helped combat the digital dive by Sonoma County was 4,000+ replacement documents were issued to victims of wildfires, and 4,700 people whose income or employment was impacted by fires were assisted in filing for disaster unemployment insurance. Another example Monroe County in NY has provided essential emergency rental assistance program funds
As more citizens of every social and economic stripe are connected to the internet, the more they’ll be able to participate in the benefits of the digital era and become active participants in truly digital government. Further, the government entities that serve these people will be inspired by their successes to increase the pace of their own modernization efforts, inevitably advancing the United States’ digital transformation journey one state, city, and town at a time.
About Gary Leikin:
As SimpliGov’s CEO, Gary Leikin leads the SimpliGov team and brings more than 20 years of increasingly senior executive leadership experience to this role. Gary has deep experience driving digital transformation strategy and building high-growth recurring revenue businesses and holds an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.