I want my…I want my IN-terr-net
— Oct 13, 2022
The typical person who needs assistance with getting connected to the Internet is either someone who is scared or embarrassed to ask for support. They feel alone and separated, and sometimes not worthy of the benefits being digitally connected can provide. Sometimes all it takes is a simple ask of “What can I do for you?” to get them connected.
Earlier this year, 27 Arizona-focused Digital Connection Activists met at The Phoenix Art Museum to learn what they each do to close the digital divide and begin exploring ways to collaborate for greater impact. Co-created by Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan of the Digital Equity Institute and ShapingEDU Director Stephanie Pierotti, the event focused on sharing information, de-siloing projects and creating new digital friends in this first of three in-person events across Arizona.
The goal of the day was to begin developing a scalable Digital Navigator training program, which will be beta tested in Arizona. The aim is to then expand the training regionally and then nationally. In May, a successful Digital Navigator event was co-hosted by ShapingEDU and the Federal Communications Comission (FCC) for the Haitian community of Belle Glade, Florida. Over 100 residents were assisted in signing up for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) led by ShapingEDU Digital Advocate Lisa Gustinelli and FCC Consumer Affairs and Outreach Chief Lyle Ishida. Ishida attended the event virtually, talking about the success in Belle Glade and how we need to have patience when cultivating DNs. He also noted the FCC will help train DNs, so we need to use the FCC as a resource. The United States Government has invested $80 billion to make the digital connections necessary for digital inclusion for everyone. There are currently 12.5 million households on the program. Illana Lowery, the Arizona Director of Common Sense Media, explained her goal is to double the number of eligible Arizona households on the program from 1 in 4, to 1 in 2.
DNs can be found in libraries, schools and faith-based organizations. While family members often tend to be the go-to people, these ideas were cultivated in a short exercise led by AMERIND Critical Infrastructure Digital Inclusion Manager Davida Delmar and focusing on who in our community needs help. During the exercise participants brainstormed what the head, hands, feet and heart need to do or feel. The head focuses on what information is needed, the hands on what relationships help them access the required resources, the feet are the actions they need to take, while the heart focuses on how they feel when they are not connected. To finish the exercise in an uplifting moment, they discussed how someone would feel once they are connected: empowered and “fancy” were the leading feelings, along with an increased feeling of belonging.
“My mom lives alone, and I want to fill my mom’s house with music when I am not there,” said an AZ Connect client, who needed to support connecting her mother’s phone to the Internet to enable her to stream music.
What was amazing to discover is how many independent DN programs already exist in Arizona and the United States. On a larger scale, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) presented their DN program, where the focus is on finding people who have empathy and can build trust, with the ability to learn, instead of needing extensive technical knowledge. Their program was shared by Kristi Zappie-Ferradina, the Director or Programs and Initiatives, and Abi Waldrupe, their Digital Navigator Manager. Their resources are open to everyone, and they encourage you to become a member and get on their listserv. (https://www.digitalinclusion.org/join/)
Closer to home in Arizona, Alexa Tarvid, formerly a Connect Arizona Digital Navigator, and now the Digital Navigator Lead at ASU’s Experience Center, shared her experiences supporting clients. Connect Arizona, a small organization of eight, gets the word out through libraries and fliers, since those who need to be connected typically do not have a way to find out about Connect Arizona. Still every day she gathers stories about misinformation dissemination, such as people who are mistakenly told that they need a state-of-the-art computer to connect to friends and family over email, or to connect to online banking and telehealth visits.
Indigenous people are greatly affected because of their rural location about being connected. I shared how when my students go home to visit family, they have to work ahead or drive for hours to get a connection to complete their online classes. Mikhail Sundust, the Executive Director, Digital Connect Initiative, Gila River Telecommunications, Inc. shared his three goals for his community. First, he wants to connect people and their immediate needs of email and webinar connections. Then he wants to focus on building a workforce with the capacity to work in tech jobs. Finally, he is looking long term to encourage youth to participate in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and projects.
ASU’s Experience Center was represented by Jason Wiley, Operations Mgr.;
Barnaby Manuel Wasson, Instructional Designer & Trainer; and Gigi Speaks, Director, Experience Center. They shared the great work happening 24/7, 365 days a year that occurs every day to provide service and support to the ASU family and beyond. In the coming year, their goal is to add five dedicated DNs to support the community.
Lupe Valenzuela, Strategy and Technology Operations Director, Chicanos Por La Causa, shared how she loves what she does as she gives back through her organization that supported her family when in need. She is leading a program in Las Vegas, training mature adults on internet protocols. She emphasized the need to not go only once, but to return and continue the training advancing the complexity at each return.
Literacy Connects’ Cindy Hogan, a Digital Inclusion Ambassador, closed the discussion sharing how she started in digital advocacy out of necessity from the COVID-19 pandemic. She was supposed to be visiting schools and since no one was going there, she taught herself what was needed to support children and families with connectivity challenges.
Also in attendance were many other community members from the Phoenix Housing Department, Valley of the Sun United Way, AZ StRUT, Southwest Telehealth Resource Center, Wildfire Community Action Agency, Moonshot at NACET and The Connective. Representatives from the Cities of Buckeye, Glendale, and Scottsdale were also in attendance.
Today, we are a funnel cake with lots of ways to get information to people, but we lack clear direction. We need to come together and be the funnel dispensing the digital batter in a greater effort to include everyone.
If you know anyone in need of connecting please go to www.getmyinternet.org or www.getinternet.gov. Please also consider joining the ShapingEDU Digital Inclusion working group if you would like to know more or become involved and help us become the Digital World we need to be. (cue Madonna)