Digital Equity (now called Digital Opportunity) Summary and Update
In March, the UMVRDC was designated as a Digital Connection Committee by the DEED Office of Broadband Development (OBD). As such, the UMVRDC convened key stakeholders in the region and provide information to the State as they develop the statewide digital equity plan to understand what the digital inclusion needs and goals are in Minnesota. This was done in three ways:
- Information was collected on digital equity issues through a regional public survey;
- A focus group discussion was conducted; and,
- An inventory of available technology assets/services in our region was done through a targeted survey.
This work concluded at the end of June with the UMVRDC submitting its results and findings to the OBD to be included in the State’s digital equity (now called digital opportunity) plan.
What did we find out?
Through our focus group discussion with those representing agencies serving underserved populations, a broadband provider, and a few county departments, we learned that there is still a great need for digital literacy and inclusion support in our region. Participants indicated that many of the individuals in need of assistance end up seeking it “where they are.” For example, if someone needs help figuring out how to submit something electronically, they tend go to the department or agency asking for it or where they received some help in the past. Digital educational sessions have been offered around the region, but have recently been poorly attended. Libraries have been a great source of support and offer a variety of services, but often the demand exceeds what they are able to provide. Also, many of these folks don’t have the devices they need to carry out digital tasks (most just have phones).
Some of the ideas that came from the discussion include:
- Continue to work on expanding broadband availability
- Offer basic tech classes, especially for recent immigrants and non-English speaking residents
- ISPs could offer discounts on services for seniors if they take digital literacy class
- Staff a digital navigator position to provide regular tech support at various communities/locations in each county
Our public survey had 19 responses and revealed some of the same results, but overall, respondents appeared to be a little more tech-savvy. They utilize their local libraries or place of employment to access the internet if their home connection was slow or interrupted. For help with tech skills, they tend to reach out to family, friends, and co-workers. The affordability of devices and services and limited number of providers were also noted to be issues.
OBD Update and Save the Date(s) for Regional Digital Equity Gatherings
As of June 30, 2023, almost 80 Digital Connection Committees provided OBD with over 250 reports, datasets, survey results, and summaries, all focused on telling their communities’ digital inclusion stories.
A complete draft of the plan was released on August 21st, 2023. From August 21 to September 29, OBD will welcome public comment and constructive feedback on the plan through an online survey, virtual and in-person meetings. To encourage statewide conversation around the draft digital opportunity plan, OBD will be hosting 17 gatherings during the public comment period. Some of the more local sites are given below. Feel free to attend whichever location is most convenient for you! For a full list of locations as well as more info on how to register for the virtual sessions, click here.
- August 29 – Willmar Public Library, 410 5th St. SW, Willmar, MN 56201
- August 30 – Marshall-Lyon County Public Library, 201 C St., Marshall, MN 56258
- August 31 – Nobles County Library, 407 12th St., Worthington, MN 56187
- September 13 – Fergus Falls Public Library, 205 E. Hampden Ave., Fergus Falls, MN 56537
- September 14 – online
- September 28 – online