Digital equity – what it is, how it’s defined in the field, how it’s related to public policy, and why it matters in NJ

September 10, 2021

by Jessica Cruz

As technology advances and COVID-19 continues to force activities to be virtual, there is an increasing divide between those who can and cannot go online. The people who are most affected by this divide are in low-income and rural areas, and without access to the internet, they will struggle to participate in opportunities for their personal economic and educational growth. Since these issues have been highlighted by COVID-19, giving everyone the right to connect online has put digital equity on the political agenda more than ever.

According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), digital equity “is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy”. Digital equity is an important component in making life more inclusive to the disadvantaged population and recovering from the economic losses of the pandemic. In order to create digital equity, the NDIA recommends five steps in making our society more digitally inclusive (NDIA, 2021).

Steps one and two are to provide affordable broadband, aka high-speed internet, and internet-enabled devices to those who need it. The third step is to provide access to digital literacy training so that people can learn how to find and create information online. Fourth, the population that has a disconnect with technology must have the support system, including appropriate technical support, needed to navigate the internet. The fifth and final step is to create applications and programs that enable self-sufficiency to decrease the stress of relying on others. The success of these five steps is dependent on the aid of local and federal governments. With their aid, more work can be done in updating and collecting data as well as finding solutions for disadvantaged communities. Much research is still required for each step, and government funding and policy are necessary to ensure these steps to ensure digital equity are feasible.

While the government of New Jersey has been leading the nation in closing the digital divide, there is still much left to do. BroadbandNow ranks New Jersey first in the country for connectivity, with the average internet speed far above the FCC’s recommendation and 78% of its residents with low-price plans available to them (WRNJ, 2020). Despite New Jersey’s progress, they still have many issues similar to the rest of the country. The American Community Survey revealed that 40% of households could not go online in lower-income areas in New Jersey compared to wealthier communities where only 5% of households could not go online (Irby, 2020).

In addition, there is still a portion of citizens in New Jersey who only have one internet provider in their area. These monopolies make it hard for those who want to change to a faster or cheaper plan (WRNJ, 2020). These statistics are important to consider if New Jersey wants to be the first state to achieve full broadband coverage. The trend towards a virtual world is only increasing, and New Jersey is well-positioned to be the leader in digital equity and to make sure no one is left behind.

Sources

Definitions. National Digital Inclusion Alliance. (2021, July 23). https://www.digitalinclusion.org/definitions/.

Irby, K. (2020, September 16). Broadband for All: The Geography of Digital Equity in New Jersey [web log]. https://www.njfuture.org/2020/09/16/broadband-for-all-the-geography-of-digital-equity-in-new-jersey/.

We Raise NJ. (2020). GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF NEW JERSEY’S DIGITAL DIVIDE.

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