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January 3, 2024

CT releases ‘digital equity plan’ draft, seeks feedback

ERICA E. PHILLIPS / CT MIRROR Robert Gagne, coordinator of the Hamden Public Library's digital navigators program, observes as digital navigator Matt McGregor assists client Mary Sease with her laptop.

Internet infrastructure is rapidly expanding across Connecticut, but thousands of residents remain offline even in areas where broadband service is available. State officials say that’s because they lack devices, technical skills and support — or they simply can’t afford the monthly cost of service.

After a year of research and outreach, the state’s Commission for Educational Technology released a draft “digital equity plan” intended to address those disparities late last month.

Its main goals include developing digital skills training programs and providing technical support; making more state and local government services available online; and ensuring that all residents can afford internet service. 

Connecticut is “very, very well wired,” said Doug Casey, executive director of the Commission for Educational Technology. “We have really good [internet] availability, but the adoption is a lot lower than you would expect.” 

That’s especially true among certain demographic groups, he said, such as residents over the age of 60, minorities, veterans, people with disabilities, low-income households and those with language barriers, rural households and people who are currently incarcerated.

And as more of the ways we engage with today’s economy migrate online, people who lack access, skills and support could fall further behind — extending the so-called digital divide. 

“Bridging the digital divide also means equipping everyone in America with the devices and digital skills they need to succeed online,” Alan Davidson, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said in a statement.

“Sitting and working with somebody so that they can renew their visa or set up online billing or take advantage of telehealth or pursue that degree that they haven’t finished — those are the kinds of things that we’re after with this,” Casey said. 

The five-year, roughly $17 million digital equity plan will be implemented in tandem with a $144 million broadband infrastructure deployment effort known as the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Both programs are funded through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in 2021.

But before the state proceeds with its digital equity plan, it’s seeking feedback. In a press release, the governor’s office encouraged residents to submit comments online, or via email ( or voicemail (860-622-2032). The deadline is Jan. 20, and the plan will be finalized in March.

The plan document includes findings from the commission’s research, which involved surveys, interviews and focus groups. Individual responses were measured against “benchmarks” for connectivity, digital literacy and online security — a way of quantifying the digital divide. Residents in households at or below 150% of the federal poverty level, for example, were roughly 20 percentage points below the statewide averages for connectivity and digital literacy.

The document also describes many of Connecticut’s existing programs that provide digital skills instruction, including “digital navigator” tutoring offered at several libraries around the state.

“Our plan will expand on that impressive work to open opportunities for everyone in Connecticut,” Lauren Thompson, manager of the digital equity program, said in a statement.

Casey said another major component to achieving digital equity is getting the word out about subsidy programs available to help households afford monthly home internet subscriptions. The federal Affordable Connectivity Program, for example, has provided Connecticut families with millions of dollars to cover internet access, as well as more than 25,000 low-cost computers, but many residents remain unaware the program exists, the commission found. 

“Across state agencies, we are moving services online, giving residents a choice in how and when they access programs. This plan will help make sure everyone has the connection, device, and skills to take advantage of those services,” Michelle Gilman, commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, said in a statement.

In order to implement the plan, Casey said, the commission will work with libraries, adult education programs and the state’s Regional Educational Service Centers to ensure every resident of every town will be able to access the resources it will make available. 

“You will not live in a town in Connecticut where you don’t have some kind of service going on,” he said.

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