Celebrating Black History Month
(February 7, 2019) – As the Director of Digital Inclusion for Connected Nation, Heather Gate is quick to point out the tremendous power and opportunities that technology provides to communities – particularly historically disenfranchised minority communities. In this age of technology, “digital exclusion” means that disenfranchised communities, families and individuals are left further behind without access to online resources for education, communication and a gateway to a better quality of life.
“Highlighting the cost of digital exclusion is a more powerful way to bring a sense of urgency to the conversation about overcoming the digital divide. All of us can understand that when you’re excluded, you’re being left out. In this digital age, it means you’re not accessing the abundance of resources that are available via internet,” said Gate. “Technology allows us to connect with our businesses, our schools, and with each other. You’re unaware of what’s happening around you and what could improve your life. At the same time, as a community we are missing the opportunity to maximize on the skills and talents of those that are not connected – both economically and socially.”
As the nation celebrates Black History Month, it is important to reflect on the successes and challenges of broadband adoption and internet use in disenfranchised African American communities. The good news is that African Americans have been adopting the internet at a faster rate than the general population. This is mostly because they are using smartphones as their only gateway to the internet.
At the same time, it is important to shine a light on the fact that African Americans are less likely to have a desktop computer or laptop along with home broadband. According to the 2017 American Community Survey from the United States Census, more than 10.7 million African Americans in the United States do not have home broadband service, representing 27.6% who are not connected (compared to the national average of 17.9% of Americans without broadband service at home).
“While the increase in internet use via smartphone is a welcome development, we cannot ignore that challenge of accessing some internet resources and tools that are better served on a larger and traditional computer with a monitor and a keyboard – imagine writing a school paper or trying to write a résumé on a smartphone,” stated Gate
Most studies about the barriers to broadband adoption have consistently shown affordability as one of the main challenges.
“When you talk about disenfranchised African American communities, you are talking about low-income communities where parents are struggling to make ends meet, keep their children safe, and to give them opportunities to strive and become success stories” said Gate. “The tragedy is that we have the power to provide them hope and opportunities through technology, yet we have not quite figured out this conundrum. This needs to change.”
Gate is quick to point out it’s not just about having access to the internet, but having the skills and the knowledge to use technology in a meaningful way. The good news is that there are nonprofit organizations, corporations, schools, libraries, community organizations, local governments across the country that are working – similar to Connected Nation – to ensure that these challenges are being addressed as it is no longer an option to be left out of the digital age.
Working for Diversity, Digital Empowerment
Gate has a master’s degree in both computer science and public administration from Kentucky State University. While she could have pursued success in the high-paying tech industry, she chose to pursue a career with a nonprofit that had an ambitious goal of helping to bridge the digital divide.
“Connected Nation was a natural fit for me. I wanted to use my experience with technology to help others,” she said. “Being with Connected Nation made it possible for me to achieve two of my goals – to be involved in technology and to serve my community, especially through helping kids. The nonprofit allowed me to connect those two worlds.”
During her time with CN, Gate has, among other things, led the design and implementation of the No Child Left Offline program in Kentucky; overseen the Computer4Kids program in Tennessee; led the planning and implementation of the New York, Nebraska and Delaware Opportunity Online programs, which were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and led the Access from AT&T affordable broadband program by working with over 600 partner organizations across 21 states.
In addition, she recently stepped into a new role, using her more than 10 years of experience in the space of digital inclusion to assist the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Gate serves on the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE), which was formed in late 2017.
According to the FCC’s official guidelines, the mission of the committee is to “empower disadvantaged communities and accelerate the entry of small businesses, including those owned by women and minorities, into the media, digital news and information, and audio and video programming industries, as owners, suppliers, and employees.” The ACDDE’s work is also meant to help the FCC “promote policies favoring diversity of media voices, localism, vigorous economic competition, technological advancement, and promotion of the public interest, convenience, and necessity.”
“We put together recommendations on how to ensure that disadvantaged communities are not left behind or denied benefits and opportunities. We then present those to FCC Chair Ajit Pai,” said Gate. “We have three working groups that have specific focus areas that fall under access, adoption and use. Access concerns policies related to the deployment and availability of broadband infrastructure and advanced technologies; adoption relates to choices made by a resident, business, or institution to access and use broadband and its related technologies; and use/digital readiness relates to community preparedness and impact of broadband networks and advanced technologies on every sector of the economy.”
Gate chairs the Digital Inclusion and Empowerment Working Group. Within the governance of the ACDDE, the working group is tasked with:
- Identifying new approaches to expanding access to emerging technologies in unserved, underserved, and under-connected communities.
- Providing recommendations for ways to ensure disadvantaged communities are not denied a wide range of access to benefits and opportunities awarded by broadband networks and advanced technologies; this includes educational, economic, healthcare, and civic participation benefits and opportunities.
“I take this role very seriously as I do all my work to expand digital inclusiveness and ensure no one is excluded,” Gate said. “It’s important because tech is at the center of everything today. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a game, working, contacting relatives or helping your child with homework – it has become the center of improving our lives.”
African American History Makers in Technology
How Technology Can Help Uplift Minorities in Higher Education
A Conversation with the Founder of Black Girls Code
More about Heather Gate: Heather is responsible for strategy development and implementation of programs that impact Digital Inclusion for all people in all places. She provides project management services including identification of program challenges and goals, as well as day-to-day oversight and funding research. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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