Digital equity is achieved when everyone has the necessary access to technology and literacy for using it to fully participate in society and the economy. The federal government, states and territories, localities, Tribes, nonprofit and community-based organizations, community anchor institutions, districts, schools, institutions of higher education, and many others have each contributed to the ongoing progress towards digital equity. Despite significant growth in technology access and use, much work remains to ensure all learners, families, and communities have access to reliable, high-speed broadband and technology tools for learning.
This spring, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology (OET) committed to advancing digital equity through the Digital Equity Education Roundtables (DEER) Initiative. Through DEER, OET hosted a series of national conversations (listening sessions) with leaders from community-based organizations, as well as families and learners furthest from digital opportunities, to learn more about the barriers faced by learner communities and promising solutions for increasing access to technology for learning. During these listening sessions, participants expressed the need to address the three components of digital equity — availability, affordability, and adoption – in order to serve all learners in an equitable manner.
Existing disparities in availability, affordability, and adoption of broadband and technology tools for learning have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and other societal factors, as school, work, and essential services continue to move online at an accelerated pace. While availability and affordability are often the focus of discussions around digital equity, leaders must in parallel solve for adoption barriers that currently impact at least six million learners. Some promising examples of adoption strategies include supporting skill building and technical assistance. For example, Sitting Bull College launched a digital navigator program that supports learners preparing for their GED online. Communities in Schools of Nevada worked with the Clark County School District to open a family support center, which helped 18,000 families get connected to reliable, high-speed broadband through personalized, human-level support.
“You need access. But with access, you need the tools. With the tools, you also need the training, or what we call support…In other words, you just can’t give someone the tools and expect them to succeed. So just want to make sure that we emphasize the need for training as well as learner help desk support.” – Reflection from roundtable focused on adult learners and higher education
Based on findings from the DEER listening sessions, OET developed Advancing Digital Equity for All: Community-based Recommendations for Developing Effective Digital Equity Plans to Close the Digital Divide and Enable Technology-Empowered Learning. This guidance resource provides recommendations for equitable broadband adoption to support leaders in crafting effective digital equity plans under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The resource also highlights existing barriers across the three components of availability, affordability, and adoption, and provides examples of promising strategies to overcome these barriers.
Each community will require collaboration among leaders and community members to co-develop and implement strategies that are aligned to their unique circumstances and address the three components of access. Therefore, the guidance concludes by suggesting five key action steps for leaders, including:
The historic federal investments secured by the Biden-Harris Administration and reflected in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law offer critical opportunities for planning that can identify and equitably address the various availability, affordability, and adoption challenges. Using Advancing Digital Equity for All as a starting point, the Department of Education encourages leaders to collaborate with those most impacted by the digital divide to develop comprehensive digital equity plans that outline strategies to meet the full needs of learners, their families, and communities in an effective and sustainable manner.
 Hemphill, C., Wang, Y., Forster, D., Scott, C., & Wilburn, G. (2021, June 9). Students’ access to the internet and digital devices at home. National Center for Education Statistics Blog. https://nces.ed.gov/blogs/nces/post/students-access-to-the-internet-and-digital-devices-at-home
 Ali, T., Chandra, S., Cherukumilli, S., Fazlullah, A., Galicia, E., Hillc, H., McAlpine, N., McBride, L., Vaduganathan, N., Weiss, D., & Wu, M. (2021). Looking back, looking forward: What it will take to permanently close the K-12 digital divide. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/featured-content/files/final_-_what_it_will_take_to_permanently_close_the_k-12_digital_divide_vfeb3.pdf