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May 4, 2023

Maine’s First Ever Digital Equity Workshop Brought Together over 150 Stakeholders Throughout the State

Digital Equity and Accessibility was the topic of the state’s first ever Digital Equity Workshop.

BELFAST, Maine (WAGM) - Digital Equity and Accessibility was the topic of the state’s first ever Digital Equity Workshop. Newssource 8′s Corey Bouchard spoke with event organizers to learn what digital equity is?

Andrew Butcher, The President of Maine Connectivity Authority, a Quasi-governmental agency charged with achieving universal access to affordable high speed broadband in Maine says "Demand drives use. If people aren’t clear how to use it, if your elderly parents maybe not familiar with how to navigate the internet this presents a real state of inequity.”

Maine Connectivity Authority are also the event organizers of the first digital equity workshop in the state which brought together over 150 stakeholders throughout the state.

Butcher says” This convening of stakeholders of which I’ll be walking you through the room when we wrap up here in a minute represents really probably one of the largest convening of folks working on actively digital equity producing regional and tribal plans that will roll up and inform our overall state funding plan.”

That plan will serve as a roadmap for how they will access close to 300 million in infrastructure funds both for dedicated broadband infrastructure as well as for the implementation of digital equity priorities

”There’s three important levels of work for our broadband efforts across the state. The first is access, how are people able to access the infrastructure that delivers the internet. Second is Affordability can people afford the services if they are available. and the third is the issue of adoption once services are available and affordable how are people able to utilize services are people literate in the tools and resources that are available are they comfortable are they secure doing so.”

While Digital Equity has existed since the popularization of technology, recent events highlighted just how much of an issue it is to modern society.

"The pandemic revealed that we are incredibly dependent on our ability to access and utilize the internet. all facets of modern society do require some ability to be able to engage online. Certainly we can survive offline and many of us in Maine thrive by being offline in moments but to live and participate actively in modern society whether you are working remotely, utilizing telehealth to be able to save a 3 hour drive to wait in a waiting room.”

Maine has been a leader in technology literacy, especially for younger generations through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, or MLTI Program that puts laptops in the hands of middle and high school students. Work is now being done to help with more marginalized groups.

"This is an opportunity for us to look deeper even at the types of populations that are called out through federal law of needing important attention through our digital equity plans. Recently incarcerated individuals need to be able to access online to be able to fulfill paperwork to make sure they are meeting their requirements. certainly new Americans and people with language barriers and people in rural areas and elderly citizens all have a unique set of issues that benefit from access to dedicated education, access to devices. What the connectivity authority is doing now is both generating that input to inform our plans as well as trying to identify how best we can enhance and support existing efforts.”

Butcher says the event provided an opportunity for stakeholders throughout the state to share ideas and prioritize initiatives. CB, NS8

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