Digital Inclusion: ‘You Have to Be Able to Use the Internet to Survive’

with Angela Siefer of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance

Connectivity, access to devices, and staying current on digital skills are key issues facing many communities. Dara Brown talks with Angela Siefer of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance about how the coalition she founded connects groups from across the nation that are working to close the digital divide.

Siefer underscores the importance of connectivity and skills: “You have to be able to use the Internet to survive.”

Posted on:

March 29, 2024

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Brown: Broadband access has been recognized as a critical issue by the federal government, but closing the digital divide continues to be a challenge. Hello. I'm Dara Brown. This is "Getting Connected" powered by "Comcast Newsmakers." We're here today at the Net Inclusion 2024 Conference in Philadelphia. Joining me to discuss the digital inequities facing Americans is Angela Siefer. She is the Founder and Executive Director of NDIA, that is the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. And, Angela, thank you so much for being here today.

Siefer: Thanks for having me, Dara.

Brown: So, set the stage for us. How expansive is the digital divide?

Siefer: In the United States, 24% of U.S. households still don't have consistent access to the internet, that is every day being able to access the internet for whatever it is that they need to do, health, work, you know, anything that's out there today. But it's also not just about that physical access to the internet, one also needs the digital skills, which with technology constantly changing, all of us need to keep up with those digital skills, and then the device. In a low-income household, they're more likely to have a mobile phone, but if you want to do schoolwork, if you want to work on anything related to health care, you're really going to want that full screen and the camera. Also, if you have accessibility issues, you need a full keyboard.

Brown: So, let's talk about this access. It's more than just an internet connection.

Siefer: It is more than just the internet connection. In the United States, our internet is expensive, so the cost of the internet is a problem. But that's not the only reason people don't have access. They also may not have access because the infrastructure just simply doesn't exist or they don't have access because they think that they don't need it. But our reality today is that you -- there's no choice. Like I hate to be the bad guy, but, really, you have to be able to use the internet to survive. And if you are not, it turns out you have a proxy, somebody else is doing things that had to be done online. So, we all need to keep up with those digital skills. And if you're behind in those digital skills, it's even harder for you to keep up.

Brown: Angela, where does NDIA fit in with solving the digital divide?

Siefer: NDIA is the organization that pulls folks together who are actually helping local individuals in their communities learn how to use the internet, get access to the internet, have a device to be able to use the internet. We are the ones that help them talk to each other peer-to-peer, best practices. But then also we take what we learn from them, we understand what their issues are and we take that to the federal government and we say, "Dear federal government, these are the things that are happening on the ground and this is what we need." And that is in part how we ended up with 2.75 billion for digital equity in the United States, which is a great start, but we have to keep working on more resources.

Brown: You have 10 years -- almost 10 years behind you now with NDIA. What does the future look like?

Siefer: Whew. Dara, I really think the future is about artificial intelligence. Technology is going to keep changing. We're going to keep having inequity in the United States. Because of those truths, we have to make sure we get in front of artificial intelligence or it will 100% cause the next digital divide. So, NDIA's community has this amazing opportunity in front of them that as they're teaching someone how to use a browser, they're also teaching them how to use AI. Right? And, so -- and with those kinds of efforts on the ground, we might be able to adjust what this digital divide looks like moving forward.

Brown: Angela Siefer, thank you so much for your time.

Siefer: Dara, thanks for having me.

Brown: And thanks to you as well for watching. For more conversations about digital equity and broadband expansion, visit I'm Dara Brown.

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