Working to Expand Diversity and Digital Empowerment in America

Lexington, KY. (July 23, 2019) – Digital inclusion is a cornerstone of Connected Nation’s mission to bring broadband (high-speed internet) access to all people — no matter where they live or where they began. The nonprofit’s Director of Digital Inclusion, Heather Gate, has worked for the last 13 years to help ensure that minority groups, women and children, and other vulnerable populations are no longer overlooked.

She recently completed a two-year term on the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDEE), serving as chair of the Digital Empowerment and Inclusion and Diversity Working Group.

Although there is still much to be done, the following is Gate’s brief on what she and other advocates for digital inclusion have accomplished so far during their work on this committee:

It has been a pleasure serving on the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE) over the last couple of years. I was honored when Connected Nation’s CEO, Tom Ferree, nominated me and trusted me to represent the organization on a national platform.

Digital inclusion and empowerment is at the core of everything we do. Our mantra is that “everyone belongs in a Connected Nation.” That means we are committed to ensuring everyone — no matter their socio-economic status, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation — has access to high-speed internet and the opportunities that come with it. In this age of technology, the opportunity to innovate, succeed, and improve one’s quality of life depends on having access to technology.

The ACDDE was chartered by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in 2017 to provide recommendations to the FCC regarding “how to empower disadvantaged communities and accelerate the entry of small businesses, including those owned by women and minorities into the media, digital news and information, and audio and video programming industries.”

When Chairman Pai announced the appointment of members to serve on three working groups of the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE), I was honored to be one of them and to be appointed the Chair of the Digital Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to share ideas with a diverse group of professionals and experts in their own respect from industry, associations, and nonprofits. We all came together with a common goal of offering some insights and recommendations to the FCC to help advance digital inclusion and equity for all Americans.

Over the duration of the charge, the DEI Working Group explored, discussed, researched, and pursued ideas and possible solutions that would help alleviate the Digital Divide not only in the traditional sense of looking at broadband availability and subscriptions but also looking at supplier diversity as a way of addressing access issues in unserved or underserved communities. Below are critical milestones and recommendations submitted to the FCC by the DEI Working Group:

  • The DEI Working Group partnered with the FCC’s Office of Communications Business Opportunities and the Media Bureau to host the Supplier Diversity Workshop in 2018. The objective of the workshop was to empower women- and minority-owned small-businesses with strategies for accessing procurement and contracting opportunities during the deployment of next generation networks.

Many participants were minority business owners who were able to learn from panelists and one-to-one sessions with business leaders from industry and government agencies. This year, the FCC will be hosting a workshop per our recommendation on October 10, 2019, to provide some participants from the previous workshop an opportunity to share their success stories.

  • The working group reviewed issues related to broadband infrastructure, including redlining and government-subsidized overbuilding, which led to recommendations. To learn more about these recommendations click here.
  • The working group also convened researchers and digital inclusion experts to gauge their opinions on the extent of the current digital divide with the goal of making the most appropriate, actionable recommendations that would help the FCC close the digital divide. As a result of these conversations, the DEI Working Group offered a set of key findings, which take on definitional approaches to the problems associated with the digital divide and potential programmatic considerations.The working group also recommended that the ACDDE convene a Digital Inclusion Workshop, which would bring together public and private stakeholders from academic, industry, government, and civil society organizations. The proposed workshop would allow like-minded experts to review and define what constitutes digital inclusion today and how we can adequately provide more opportunities for online access at the national, state, and local levels. To learn more aboutthese recommendations click here.
  • The working group explored how broadband and related applications could be used to advance economic growth in disadvantaged communities with persistent poverty, population decline, poor health outcomes, and lack of economic opportunity. To advance this discussion, Harin Contractor drafted a working paper titled “Implications of Tech-Based Workforce Development on Advancing Economic Mobility and Growth in Disadvantaged Communities.” This working paper will undergo further review and development in the next ACDDE.

As we conclude this advisory group I would like to thank my Connected Nation team, the ACDDE, my fellow DEI Working Group members, Chairman Pai, and the FCC staff that worked hard to ensure we had a platform to work and share our voices on behalf of disadvantaged communities.

Make no mistake, there is still much work to be done before we can achieve digital equity in the United States. I was pleased to find that there are many who are working toward achieving this goal and continue to be honored to offer my contributions in this community.

 

About the Author: Heather Gate is the director of Digital Inclusion for Connected Nation. She is responsible for strategy development and implementation of programs that impact Digital Inclusion for all people in all places. She provides project management services including identification of program challenges and goals as well as day-to-day oversight and funding research.  Heather also serves on the Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE).

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