New Working Paper: The Digital Opportunities Compass

Digital Opportunities CompassAs states across the U.S. develop their digital equity plans this year, as part of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s BEAD and DEA grant programs, a comprehensive and holistic framework is needed to evaluate the outcomes and impacts of these federal investments to advance digital equity in the years to come.

In response, my colleagues and I have developed a working paper, titled “The Digital Opportunities Compass: Metrics to Monitor, Evaluate, and Guide Broadband and Digital Equity Policy.” The paper was published yesterday by the Quello Center for Media and Information Policy at Michigan State University, where I am a Research Fellow.

Here is a snippet from the Executive Summary of the report:

This working paper introduces a measurement framework to guide state and local policy in the United States at a moment of unprecedented investment in broadband infrastructure and digital equity nationwide. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA), together with the Digital Equity Act (DEA) included in IIJA, allocated 65 billion dollars to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, high speed internet service–a prerequisite to achieve broader outcomes, such as ‘economic success, educational achievement, positive health outcomes, social inclusion, and civic engagement.’

The IIJA includes five categories of measurable objectives to assist states in documenting and promoting: (1) the availability of, and affordability of access to, fixed and wireless broadband technology; (2) the online accessibility and inclusivity of public resources and services; (3) digital literacy; (4) awareness of, and the use of, measures to secure the online privacy of, and cybersecurity with respect to, an individual; and (5) the availability and affordability of consumer devices and technical support for those devices. The law is explicit in its goal to ensure that covered populations, or those most impacted by digital inequalities, benefit from these efforts.

The ‘Digital Opportunities Compass’ framework builds on these core metrics and expands them in important ways. It builds on over 25 years of research and experience related to how broadband and device access, affordability, and digital skills relate to digital equity and broader social and development outcomes. This body or experience suggests that digital equity can be achieved more sustainably if the entire broadband ecosystem is considered. The framework is intended to assist stakeholders interested in metrics to monitor, evaluate, and guide broadband and digital equity policy now and in the future.”

Download the full report on the Quello Center’s website.

Update on February, 28, 2023: The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has published our overview of the report, titled “Digital Opportunities Compass” on their Digital Beat blog.

Missing Pieces: How the FCC’s Broadband Map Misrepresents Public Libraries

SHLB Coalition

Back in December, I responded to an open invitation from John Windhausen, Executive Director of the Schools, Health, & Libraries Broadband  (SHLB) Coalition, during the monthly SHLB Coalition member policy call, to take a closer look at how the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Broadband Map represents community anchor institutions (CAIs). I thought this would be a great opportunity to look at how public libraries are represented on the map and to help make sure public libraries, and other anchor institutions, have the opportunity to receive funding through the NTIA’s Broadband and Digital Equity grant programs.

This week, the SHLB Coalition and the American Library Association submitted an ex parte filing with information about our meeting on Monday with FCC staff. Attached to this filing was my report, titled “Missing Pieces: How the FCC’s Broadband Map Misrepresents Public Libraries.” Here is the abstract from the paper:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently released a “pre-production” draft of their National Broadband Map in an effort to provide more precise details about where internet service does and does not exist in individual locations across the U.S. While much attention has been paid to how the map represents broadband service for individual households, there is much less understanding among the general public with regards to how the map represents individual community anchor institutions, such as public schools, libraries, and hospitals. In an effort to address this gap in public understanding, and to help contribute to improving the FCC’s Broadband Map overall, this paper presents findings from a study of 200 public libraries in 20 states across the U.S. to gain a better understanding of the following: (1) whether public libraries are classified as “broadband serviceable” or not; (2) whether public library buildings are classified as “residential” or not; and (3) the level of service that public library buildings receive in individual locations. The findings from this study raise important questions about whether the FCC’s current process allows for public challenges to correct these mis-classifications. Recommendations are provided at the end of this report to help ensure that the map helps to address the broadband needs of community anchor institutions across the country. Methodology This section describes the overall approach and methods used for the study.

I hope that the ex parte filing and the report itself is helpful to public libraries and those working to ensure that the NTIA’s broadband and digital equity grant programs respond to what is required by law in H.R.3684 – Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.