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Local Leaders in Bridging the Digital Divide Offer Insights and Solutions

Bridging the digital divide means more than just bringing the internet to a home’s front door, says Jim Stritzinger, director of the state Broadband Office. Stritzinger says it’s important to talk about broadband access in two ways. One is physical infrastructure. The other is adoption that folds in affordability  and digital skills.

Stritzinger focuses on these topics of digital literacy and digital inclusion in an interview on the ElevatED4SC video podcast that  drops on Thursday, March 17. The video and audio podcast versions of the episode are available on YouTube, ITunes and Spotify. 

Stritzinger says it’s often the students who bring home the technology knowledge to their parents and caregivers. While students need the technology to succeed in school, adults also need to understand it in order to apply for a job, pay bills or participate in medical appointments. 

“The thing that keeps me up at night is thinking about our six-year-olds who have no internet access at home. Because if we adults don’t get this done fast, we’re going to  wind up with 16- year-olds who are unemployable,” says Stritzinger. “There’s a fierce ‘urgency of now’ to really connect and get it done.”

One major step forward, according to Stritzginer, is knowing where the gaps in broadband availability are, down to students’ individual addresses. 

“State agencies are working together like never before,” says Stritzinger. “We map very accurately where we have broadband coverage and where we don’t. With the South Carolina Department of Education, we’ve actually mapped every single school student. That’s 785,000 street addresses on this map. So we know exactly where the kids live and where the infrastructure doesn’t exist.”

Bridging these gaps and building a resilient community depend on families having access to both high speed internet and the right types of devices to meet their needs, says Phyllis Martin, CEO of Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative which works to ensure all children reach their full potential in school and in life, cradle to career.

In this ElevatED4SC episode released during Digital Inclusion Week, Martin lays out the insights gathered from a community-wide survey that took stock of the Tri-County region’s needs related to bouncing back from the pandemic. 

“We looked at what was most on people’s minds when it came to resiliency and how would we, as a region, ensure that kids and families were going to come back better,” Martin said in the ElevatED4SC  interview. “Through our qualitative and quantitative data, the issue of access to broadband and digital inclusion rose to the surface.”

Martin points to four specific needs uncovered in the research. First, access to high speed internet is a must. Second, families must have the right number and the right types of devices in their home. Third, digital literacy is necessary for people to know how to use and troubleshoot with the technology. Fourth, advocacy is necessary to reach the goal of digital inclusion for everyone in the community.

To hear more of the interviews with Martin and Stritzinger, listen to or watch the 18-minute ElevatED4SC vodcast and learn more about what they have to say about digital inclusion and the critical need to get broadband – and the necessary devices  –  into every South Carolina home.

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