The Present is Digital

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The Future Present is Digital

A New Law Makes Access More Equitable

Judy Mortrude

BEFORE YOU READ:
1. What does the title mean? Why is the word “future” crossed out?
2. List some of the interactions and processes in your life that are now digital.
3. Study this vocabulary: digital, equity, eligible

To Fully Participate, You Need to Be Connected

The pandemic has changed everything. You can visit your doctor online. You can receive your pandemic relief payments online. Your classes and your children’s classes happen online. And you are probably using more and more technology at your job. The present is digital. We all need access to high-speed internet, quality devices, and training in order to live, work, and learn in this connected world.

A new federal law—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—will help people access low-cost but high-quality internet service. The law will also bring millions of dollars to states to build digital equity. Digital equity means that everyone in a community has the capacity to use information technology for “full participation in the society and economy of the United States.”

How do You Get Connected?

The new law creates the Affordable Connectivity Program. Once you register, the program can provide a discount of up to $30 per month for internet service for eligible households (and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands.)

Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. The Affordable Connectivity Program is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.

A household is eligible if at least one person meets at least one of these criteria:

You can find out which internet providers in your area are providing this benefit and sign up at https://www.fcc.gov/acp.

How Can Your Program Help the State Build Digital Equity?

The new law also creates the Digital Equity State Plan process. In March 2022, each state will get money to create a plan to build digital equity across their state, and then each state will get more money to put that plan into action. A big focus of the work will be on certain community members, named in the law as “covered populations.” These priority groups include:

Anyone participating in adult education programs is a priority for digital equity work. It is critical that adult education state leaders get involved in the state digital equity planning, and that local programs make their needs known. Adult education programs might need funds for broadband access, devices for learners and staff, and for digital skill-building and digital navigation services. During the planning process, people will have the opportunity to participate in “public comment.” This is a great opportunity for civic engagement—for getting involved and having your voice heard.

What do you need?

As you think about the tools and skills you need for accessing health care, communicating with your children’s school, and getting ahead on the job, what is missing? How would having affordable, high-quality internet and devices for your household matter? What would it mean not only to have digital equity but to be digitally resilient— ready for the future?

AFTER YOU READ:
1. If you were telling a friend about the Affordable Connectivity Program, what would you say? What are the key points you would want to communicate? Write a short script of what you would say and practice saying it.
2. As a class, discuss what adult learners need to gain digital equity. For example, does your program need access to broadband internet? Does your program need more funding for digital literacy classes and devices for students? Write down your ideas and share them with your program director.
3. What are some of the things in your life that are going digital—for example, keeping in touch with your child’s teacher, updating your timesheet at work, using GPS to find your way around? Which digital tools do you use with ease? Which ones do you need more practice with? How would digital equity help you be more digitally resilient?
4. Consider submitting your writing to The Change Agent. See our current Call for Articles here and in the next section of this magazine.

Make Your Voice Heard!
States will start making a digital equity plan in the spring of 2022.
1. Ask your program director about the state-level process for creating a plan to distribute funds from the Digital Equity Act. Or reach out to the director of adult education in your state. Ask how you can contribute comments verbally or in writing.
2. Compile your comments (alone or with your classmates). When the public comment period begins, share your comments.
3. Get published! Submit your writing to The Change Agent! See pp. 34 and 36 for more information.

Judy Mortrude is a Senior Technical Advisor at World Education, and she is the president of the National Coalition for Literacy.

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