(BLOOMINGTON) – The City of Bloomington has published the first draft of a Digital Equity Strategic Plan in service of the goal of improving internet accessibility and affordability for Bloomington residents. This draft is available at https://bloomington.in.gov/digital-equity for ideas and feedback from the public. Additional input will be sought at a meeting on December 1 at 6:30 p.m. over video conference here.
Bloomington residents may also provide feedback at any time at this online form.
The draft plan was informed by a survey sent to a randomized sample of 6,500 Bloomington households in April 2020 and completed by 1,080 respondents and by dozens of community stakeholder interviews over the last few months. In the draft, the Digital Equity Plan outlines a few broad recommendations for improvement, including the following:
- Create a coalition of stakeholders to guide strategy and establish a leadership position within the City to implement digital equity programs, enhance coordination and drive action.
- Expand a new City grants fund to launch and expand programs such as device provision and loaner programs, and potentially to launch technical support and training programs that serve target populations.
- Work to expand utilization of Internet Essentials and other subsidized broadband programs, including through sponsored subscriptions, education and outreach efforts, and potential third-party support to assist indebted consumers.
- Engage with local foundations and explore means of financial and technical support and partnerships to scale programmatic responses to meet the full need.
- Facilitate broadband competition to potentially improve service and lower prices; consider the feasibility of expanding Wi-Fi in public housing and in City public spaces.
“We encourage residents to continue to weigh in with their experiences, suggestions and expertise as we work on this long-term plan to help all our residents have more equitable access to the digital world,” said Mayor John Hamilton. “Digital connection in the 21st century is a fundamental utility for our times, like water and electricity were in the 20th century. And fair and effective access for all is a critical challenge.”
Once completed, the strategic plan will direct the City’s investment in digital equity, and help identify funding opportunities that may emerge from additional state or federal COVID stimulus and other broad-based stimulus for example from a federal infrastructure package. Already, as part of Mayor John Hamilton’s Recover Forward initiative, the City has established a digital equity grants fund to support local nonprofit partners in their efforts to bridge the digital divide and increase digital resources for residents, with special attention to issues identified by the Digital Equity survey. Proposals will be accepted through Wednesday, December 2 at 4 p.m. Information about applying for a digital equity grant is available at https://bloomington.in.gov/digital-equity.
The digital equity survey and draft plan were developed in partnership with CTC Technology and Energy, which has conducted comparable surveys and helped develop digital equity strategies for cities including Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington.