To connect everyone to broadband, Dallas must focus on cost and adaptation

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The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many of the inequalities that exist in our society, especially when it comes to high-speed internet.

As we continue to depend on the internet for nearly every aspect of life, the vulnerable communities most affected by the digital divide, including Dallas’ 120,000 residents without broadband, must not be left behind. To fix the problem, we must first identify the cause. The National Urban League’s Latimer Plan for Digital Equity and Inclusion makes this clear, attributing the digital divide to the accessibility gap, addressing the financial means to afford a broadband subscription and the adoption gap, tackling training in the digital skills needed to get people online.

The proportion of Americans who are not online because they lack the digital skills (adoption gap) or the means to go online (affordability gap) is three times higher than those who are not. not online because they don’t have access to it. In Dallas, 99.9% of the city can choose service from three or more providers, and 100% is covered by high-speed Internet.

Connection of the estimate 120,000 Dallas residents who do not have a broadband subscription due to affordability or adoption is a formidable task, but achievable given the will and resources currently available. First, the City of Dallas and the Dallas Independent School District have demonstrated an astute awareness of the urgent need to bridge the digital divide, as evidenced by their goal of ensuring Dallas households have access High-speed, reliable internet and devices in their homes.

Both entities have previously funded smart programs dedicated to improving digital equity that have made a real difference. Their Digital browsers The grant program provides nonprofit funding to support low-income families with resources for internet services, hardware and digital literacy programs, tackling both adoption and affordability issues .

Second, through the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, significant funding has been allocated to close the affordability and adoption gap. This includes $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a groundbreaking program providing up to $30 in monthly benefits to low-income families. Dallas is expected to continue to build on ACP by expanding the program to more than 620,000 presumably eligible residents.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also provides $2.75 billion to close the adoption gap by educating low-income and older Americans about the digital skills needed to get online and online. an affordable price.

Taking advantage of these federally funded programs will effectively bridge the digital divide, but residents should be concerned about plans under consideration that would do very little to address the problem. Some local municipalities are considering proposals to build taxpayer-funded, government-operated broadband networks. These proposals represent duplicated digital network infrastructure but do nothing to bridge Dallas’ digital divide. These networks would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, money that could be used to address other critical issues, such as rising housing costs and crime. Moreover, it would take years to complete these networks without solving the real problems.

There is no time to waste when it comes to connecting the most vulnerable groups in our community, especially when we already have the tools to close the gap now. Addressing the digital divide with real, practical solutions is imperative for countless students who have, through no fault of their own, fallen behind in school, or older Dallas residents who cannot access services of telehealth.

These are just two examples reflecting the urgency of addressing the issue, but unconnected Dallas residents of all ages and walks of life need this vital resource now. Instead of wasting time and money on an expensive and unnecessary network, Dallas should redouble its efforts to focus on affordability and adoption by amplifying the ACP program and using its funding for digital literacy. , awareness, computers and tablets. We already have the tools to start solving the gap, we just need to use them.

Antong Lucky is president of Urban Specialists. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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