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Digital Divide

Comcast's Broderick Johnson on Internet access and the pursuit of 'digital equity'

DENVER – The concept of "digital equity" has been a hot topic as the FCC and private entities attempt to resolve the issue of accurate broadband mapping and uncover where resources need to be applied to get people connected in underserved and unserved rural areas. That work also extends into cities, where broadband might be available but factors like affordability or access to devices and digital training can limit the rate of adoption.

Broderick Johnson, who joined Comcast just over a year ago, has a history of focusing on the pursuit of digital equity. In fact, it's right there in his title: EVP for public policy and EVP for digital equity.

"This goes back … really decades," he explained on the Light Reading Podcast, noting that the digital divide was part of the discussion during his time at the Clinton White House, where he served as deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs.

"Back then, it was more about access," recalled Johnson, who was recently in Denver to meet with community leaders and representatives from state and local government about how they and Comcast can better collaborate on digital adoption.

Over time, the discussion has "morphed into a more complicated set of issues" with respect to where investments are being made and what other barriers exist where deployments are happening.

"We do know that there has been, over the course of these decades though, really difficult disparities based on race and economic class, and where people live," he said.

While affordability and access are important, other factors also play a role in adoption. Some barriers hold people back, even when Internet access is free or almost free.

Johnson said Comcast has taken a "very hard look at this" internally and through research with partners such as the Boston Consulting Group that has helped to highlight the effectiveness of "Digital Navigators" – local volunteers trained to help people obtain digital skills and troubleshoot problems.

Among findings in the study with the Boston Consulting Group, which surveyed more than 1,500 people nationwide who used Digital Navigator services, more than 65% of participants gained access to home Internet or a device thanks to a Digital Navigator.

Here's a snapshot of topics discussed during this podcast:

  • How Johnson defines "digital equity" (2:20)
  • Beyond access and affordability, which other barriers are keeping consumer adoption at bay (4:05)
  • An update on projects at Comcast focused on bridging the digital divide – including Internet Essentials, which was launched more than a decade ago, Project UP, Comcast Rise and the deployment of more than 1,000 Wi-Fi-connected "Lift Zones" in venues such as community centers and libraries (6:30)
  • The roles that community-trusted Digital Navigator volunteers can play in boosting Internet adoption with respect to getting access to devices and obtaining digital skills and training, and how that can translate to projects such as the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) (10:30)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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