Respondents in both the Scientific Residential Survey and the Qualitative Public Survey indicated overwhelmingly that it is important for the local government to work to ensure that all persons have affordable access to the Internet at home (see Table 6 below). Those who have adopted broadband services are willing to pay for it, despite thinking it is more costly than it should be. They have also developed skills in the utilization of the Internet and other services delivered via broadband, for example telelearning from educational institutions or used for telework. They see more of the role of local government as ensuring that there are a lot of options available and that access is affordable.
Table 6: How important is it that your local government works to ensure all persons have affordable access to the Internet at home?
Affordability is defined by individuals based on their specific circumstances as discussed in Study Finding 2.2. Esper House noted that “in all target communities, there is broad belief that government should provide or subsidize Internet devices and access”. The library branch representatives echoed this sentiment, discussing the importance of the public access computers and publicly available Internet in the libraries. Qualitative Public Survey respondents also confirmed the importance of availability of free public access to the Internet with 43% deeming it essential and 36% deeming it very important.
Although the Qualitative Public Survey showed, and others affirmed, the importance for there to be free computers and classes to learn how to use the Internet, with 31% saying it was essential and 32% saying it was very important, the effective provision of those types of services focused more on trusted community entities and public-private partnerships.
For those that work with underserved populations, it is clear they believe it’s very important for local governments to be involved in efforts to educate and increase adoption, and that it benefits the local population overall. For example, DIN focus group participants talked about the importance of local government listening to the community, building trust, and continuing to be involved with public-private partnerships on initiatives related to adoption, low cost or no cost Internet services, and equipment availability. Local governments universally echoed the belief that it was important for them to be engaged in these public-private efforts and many examples were given.
Esper House found that communities of color, seniors, and persons living with disabilities understood that local government was involved in education about issues related to digital equity and inclusion. However, Esper House also noted that “in all the target communities, individuals expressed apprehension and suspicion of government involvement regarding education and assistance with digital tools and access.” One community of color interviewee affirmed that “its mixed. Some folks don’t want the government to be involved. I don’t think the general public wants the government to be involved”. One senior interviewee indicated “I think it would come with some apprehensions here. Fear of Portland becoming “’big brother’ watching”.
Underserved community members did not express that same fear about non-profits and other community organizations that work with them. MetroEast Community Media, for example, noted they have successfully engaged underserved community members, both directly and through partnerships, who feel comfortable in participating in trainings and classes at MetroEast. Community organizations and other trusted entities can also better address barriers to accessing training as discussed in Study Finding 2.3 and Finding 2.5. For those that don’t have access, local governments noted how difficult it would be to provide devices to everyone, so they work to develop sharable devices. The City of Gresham, indicated that they work with the libraries and others to help increase the number of locations equipped with everything needed, not just WiFi access to the Internet. The East County cities are looking to develop a mobile access center staffed by volunteers who would provide access to Kiosks, cellphones and notebook computers, as well as access to the Internet. With the increasing need to provide information in multiple forms and formats, it will be a challenge for local governments to help provide the public access to the technology that is needed.