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Two decades of data proves no two communities are alike – and that’s why your town needs Connected

Bowling Green, Kentucky (August 8, 2023) - Broadband (high-speed internet) is one of today’s most utilized tools, an asset that can be used in many ways by every person. It affects people in many different areas of their lives — from social media to careers to medical care — but not everyone has the access that they need. That’s why the nonprofit Connected Nation (CN) decided something needed to be done to improve broadband at the community level.

In 2011, CN launched the Connected Community Engagement Program (also called Connected). The program aims to craft comprehensive action plans to bolster broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion in participating communities. These policy prescriptions come straight from the data — acquired through surveys and interviews with community members. 

What sets this program apart? The data:

The Connected program goes beyond states’ needs and drills down into exactly what each county needs. 

Given that the program has existed for 12 years, the data is plentiful — having been collected from diverse populations nationwide. Some communities can be 1,000 miles apart or just 5 miles apart. What makes this program so special is that the data tells us how they are each different. 

Two Connected communities, Ellis and Knox counties (both in Texas) are perfect examples. 

Based on surveys gathered through the Connected program, 94.9% of responding households in Knox County and 96.4% in Ellis County say they subscribe to home internet service, which are much higher rates than the average in other Connected communities (82.7%). 

How does broadband access relate to digital literacy?

Just because residents have access to the internet does not necessarily mean they have the skills to use it. To that point, the Connected surveys for these same two counties contain several indicators that measure digital literacy — asking about people’s familiarity with various digital hardware, software applications, communication tools, and other online activities.

Regarding hardware digital literacy, average scores for each Connected community range from 16.2 to 20.7. Out of all the communities that CN surveyed between 2020 and 2022, Ellis County had the highest score (20.7). Meanwhile, Knox County had one of the lowest scores (17.3).

The gap between scores illustrates that Ellis County residents are more technologically savvy on average than Knox County residents. This trend holds up when looking at other digital literacy indicators. For software, average scores for each Connected community range from 6.9 to 11.7. While Knox County had one of the lowest scores (9), Ellis County had one of the highest (11.6).

For digital communications, the average literacy scores ranged from 8.1 to 13.1 — again, Knox County had one of the lower scores (10.8), while Ellis County had the highest (13.1). These two communities looked quite similar from the onset, but digging deeper, it’s clear that they have different needs and might want to consider allocating broadband funds toward different purposes.

What does this research mean, why is it important to continue, and what is the future of the Connected program? 

By and large, this data exercise illustrates just how valuable the program is. It shows that every single community is different, and no other program can do that.

In partnership with active local champions, Connected has the ability to gather granular information about the broadband context at the community level to inform decision-making and policy. Much of this data (like the digital literacy scores) isn’t readily available elsewhere. Furthermore, this exercise highlights that each community is unique and should be treated that way.

We need to keep this program alive so that we can help identify areas of improvement for each community. Every community has its own needs, its own priorities, and deserves its own solutions. Working with the CN research team, the Connected program is proud to contribute to that effort.