Access, Equity, and Literacy

1. Digital Equity and Literacy

The State of Hawai‘i recognizes the importance of digital literacy programs to educate members of the community with limited or no prior knowledge on navigating the digital landscape to effectively participate in a highly connected future. Having access to broadband without a proper understanding of how to navigate technology and use the Internet ultimately defeats the purpose of broadband access when access cannot be utilized and maximized for every member of our community. 

The COVID-19 public health emergency further emphasized the necessity of digital literacy in tandem with access to high speed, reliable and affordable internet in the country, and within Hawai‘i. In an effort to take on this accelerated challenge, the Broadband Hui, a digital equity and literacy stakeholder group comprised of ISPs, state departments, community anchor institutions (CAIs), and nonprofits with efforts dedicated to expanding and or improving access and literacy to broadband for residents primarily in unserved and underserved communities, began convening weekly from May 2020 to present day. The Broadband Hui is the first-of-its-kind effort at a large scale upwards of 200 members, and is thus in a unique position to mobilize efforts statewide and inspire similar collaboration in other states and territories, given the collaborative nature of the group under the direction of the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism’s budding Broadband and Digital Equity Office. In addition, ahead of the release of the Digital Equity Planning Program, the State of Hawai‘i has furthered their efforts in digital equity with the a report released in late 2021 titled the Hawaii Digital Literacy and Readiness Study, with the purpose of establishing, “an initial benchmark of Hawai‘i’s digital readiness and literacy.” 

As of May 13, 2022, NTIA has released the Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Digital Equity Planning Grant, the first of three programs to launch under the Digital Equity Act of 2021 in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Digital Equity Act of 2021 consists of a planning grant, a capacity grant, and a competitive program. Each state is eligible for funding on a formula basis for the planning and capacity grant programs; states have been tasked with creating a state plan that, “Promote[s] the achievement of digital equity, support[s] digital inclusion activities, and build[s] capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States,” under the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) is also eligible for a share of set-aside planning funds under the State Digital Equity Planning Grant program. Eligible entities nationwide will also have the chance to compete for funding under the competitive grant program to follow in the future.

While the focus of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program lies heavily in ensuring last mile connectivity to unserved and underserved communities, the State Digital Equity Planning Grant and following Capacity Grant and Competitive Grant Programs establish equal importance to ensuring that infrastructure build-outs are ultimately accessible to the public, with affordability, devices, digital skills, technical support, and digital navigation all accounted for within the terms of the digital equity programs. It can therefore be expected that the communities benefiting from BEAD last-mile buildouts will see Capacity grant and potential competitive funding channeled into those unserved, underserved, and rural communities.

In collaboration with the Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority (HPHA), DHHL, the Department of Health (DOH), Workforce Development, Hawai‘i State Public Library System (HSPLS), other CAIs, US Vets, and other not-for-profits organizations, DBEDT is tasked with creating a state digital equity plan that accounts for access, equity, and literacy. The digital equity and literacy programs developed in this state plan by the above collaborators prioritize the following populations in line with the legislative language in IIJA: veterans; individuals living in households at or below 150% of the federal poverty level; aging individuals; incarcerated individuals; individuals with disabilities; individuals with language barriers; individuals who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group; and individuals who primarily reside in a rural area. Furthermore, the state digital equity plan shall consider the following access, equity, and literacy programs in their Digital Equity Plan:

     1.A. Digital Equity and Literacy Content Creation; Leverage Existing Programs

Digital literacy skills are gained through instruction and hands-on educational methods with supporting tutorials or other educational content that shows users how to perform such tasks. This may include at the most basic level, how to navigate digital devices, perform basic computer functions, utilize different applications including the web, job search functions such as creating a resume, searching for jobs, and applying for jobs, or more advanced technical workforce skills to meet industry demands. The Workforce Development Council, HSPLS, and Hawaii Literacy are all organizations with sufficient means to provide educational content for introductory and intermediate technical skills development. This includes creating publications as well as courses that may be hosted in person or independently online for the purpose of developing literacy skills for all residents. 

Currently, Workforce Development, HSPLS, and Hawaii Literacy all offer or have offered digital literacy training to various extents with geographic restriction being the greatest inhibitor to reaching across the state. Provided proper funding from the Digital Equity Act, unserved, underserved, and remote communities will ideally be able to visit their nearest CAI (e.g. library, school, community health center, public housing facility) for access to these programs if they do not have access from their residence. 

Further instruction in advanced, technical skills development may be pursued through UH Community Colleges offering courses at their home campus or education centers, and pending the implementation and success of the proposed Pahoa Library project from the University of Hawai‘i’s system’s submission for Connecting Minority Communities, may see other CAIs provide access to community college courses for the purpose of IT skills development. 

     1.B. Digital Literacy Outreach, Training and Education, connect with Community Access Locations

Under the coordination of the overall broadband investment leadership by the University of Hawai‘i, the DBEDT Digital Equity Office under leadership from Burt Lum will construct and vet the state’s digital equity plan. Burt Lum is responsible for the weekly convening of the Broadband Hui, whose weekly meetings function as an open forum for stakeholders in the broadband and digital equity community to share project updates of all ongoing, completed, or planned digital equity programs. Outreach efforts should continue to be perpetuated through the Broadband Hui and its participating stakeholders by means of televised, radio, print, and word-of-mouth means. Outreach should be accessible to all sectors of the public, and includes exposure through public spaces, such as public transportation, public housing, public libraries, community centers, and schools.

With participation from the Department of Education, HSPLS, HPHA, and other organizations with community-wide presence, outreach materials should be readily available for distribution from any of the aforementioned entities. Furthermore, distributing entities should have representatives on-site who are readily available to speak about the programs available to residents or refer residents to the appropriate individual for more information if they are uncertain of what a program may entail.

Outreach efforts in the state should promote maximizing application of federal programs like the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) along with local digital literacy training and education opportunities hosted by local nonprofits and state entities. This includes digital literacy training sessions hosted at community colleges or other CAIs and other programs intended to provide training, education, and access to digital technology and broadband. Digital literacy outreach materials should be translated in, at minimum: Hawaiian, Thai, Ilocano, Khmer, Kosraean, Marshallese, Samoan, Tonga, Chinese, and Tagalog. This is to maximize the reach of access, education, and training information to populations facing language barriers.

Ultimately, outreach should be inclusive of Hawai‘i residents residing in DHHL properties, US Vets’ veteran housing facilities, homeless households, and all others in underprivileged situations.

     1.C. Integrate with IT workforce development initiatives (e.g., Leap-Start Excelerator program)

The IT/Cyber Leap-Start Experience Excelerator Program is under development by the University of Hawai‘i. It is a program for students close to graduating to gain meaningful experience in the IT and Cybersecurity workforce sectors through mentorship opportunities with partnering employers in the IT and cybersecurity sectors. Participants will be hired through RCUH to perform duties under their mentoring entity for a 12 to 24 month term, a term in which they may be hired full-time by UH or the participating employers into the aforementioned sectors. Other similar programs, including private sector internship programs, may also be integrated into the state’s digital equity and literacy efforts.

     1.D. Community DEL Programs

As part of the submission to the Connecting Minority Communities Program, the University of Hawai‘i System proposed a pilot program in which the Pahoa Public Library on the Big Island will become a community access point for students and residents to partake in credit or non-credit community college courses pertinent to IT-type skills development, with an allotted number of paid slots reserved for residents to enroll for the course. The Pahoa Library would also see student employees from the nearby campuses (UH Hilo and HawaiiCC) provide on-site technical support, with additional remote support provided from UH’s IT Help Desk.

The Pahoa Library Project is one that, pending successful implementation, has high re-creation value across other remote communities and various other CAIs. This program is ultimately a model for extending the accessibility of IT training to communities who may not be able to capitalize on the programs available across the state because of geographical and economic barriers.  

Proposed Funding Source(s): State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program

2. Community Access Locations (cross-listed under LM)

Community anchor institutions (CAIs) are well-known common access points for digital literacy project deployment and promoting outreach efforts for broadband equity, literacy, and access. This term encompasses schools, libraries, community health centers, and public housing among others, many of which have seen pilot projects for broadband that can be replicated at other community access locations for greater reach to populations that may still see limited access to existing services. 

Distinct from community anchor institutions are community access locations, which covers non-profit organizations with a statewide presence and reach. This includes the Institute for Human Services (IHS), Goodwill, Salvation Army, Aloha United Way, Economic Development Alliance of Hawaii, and the various Hawaii Chambers of Commerce as alternative last mile connectivity and digital literacy access points. Other sites of interest include the above organizations operating mobile or “on-wheels” programs, and CAIs under the Department of Education and HSPLS that do not currently participate in any community access programs. 

Using funds on a one-time basis to deliver equipment (e.g. computers, laptops, routers, etc.) to these sites for public use would potentially enable new locations to serve communities previously unserved, or otherwise provide an alternative site to connect to the internet for communities. Additionally, by executing a multi-year contract, broadband access can be provided to sites that do not currently have the bandwidth to sustain a public network. 

Each site participating as a community access location will also be a candidate site for digital literacy training, and other educational and public (government) support services, including remote education and workforce development. Community members will have access to technical support on-site and remotely should it be required. 

Proposed Funding Source(s): BEAD, State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program

3. Outreach and Communications

UH and Hawai‘i’s Broadband and Digital Equity Office in collaboration, must engage the community in a meaningful way that allows for a two-way flow of communication, one where the public can be educated on topics of broadband and equity, and a chance for the public to provide community feedback and to collaborate in imagining the next community hubs. These convenings from UH are expected to run concurrently with the Broadband Hui’s Ho’ike subcommittee, another public-facing convening expected to supplement equity and literacy.

Convenings may potentially be supplemented on the day of the respective event with a poster session featuring organizations who want to promote their AEL programs to residents. Furthermore, island-wide poster sessions unaffiliated with the convenings should be held at large public centers (e.g. shopping malls and centers, libraries) as a low-cost, low planning method to promote programs in the community with greater community exposure in heavily trafficked common areas, where even without access to the internet, residents may choose to engage and learn more about the programs in their locale that may appeal and apply to them, or pass on the information to someone they may know.

Moreover, in addition to previously stated efforts, the University of Hawai‘i intends to maintain the website with the most up to date information on broadband projects in the state, with a focus on the infrastructure projects planned in both middle mile and last mile networks. UH maintains that digital equity and literacy efforts are primarily supported by the Broadband and Digital Equity Office, who must maintain their website with all relevant materials in that space. Both websites will function as the “first stop” for informing the community and maintaining transparency. An online presence casts a broad reach to the public, and with planned social media presence (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) in addition to physical outreach, outreach and communications will be leveraged to their fullest potential. 

Proposed Funding Source(s): BEAD, State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program

4. Hawaii  Digital Literacy Community Grant Program

In the near future, the state can expect multiple requests for proposals (RFP) to fund AEL and LM projects that are innovative and target communities that do not currently have local community broadband access point or access to digital literacy and skills training. This opportunity will allow for non-governmental entities with prior experience providing broadband service, broadband infrastructure, and other communication services and literacy programs to residential customers within the state of Hawaii, to apply for funding to establish tech centers, digital literacy programs, and create outreach materials to inform the public about federal support programs and local LM and AEL points of interest. 

Proposed Funding Source(s): BEAD

5. Hawaii Mapping Effort (cross-listed under LM)

In November 2021, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act was passed, promising new federal broadband maps from the FCC built by mandatory data submissions provided by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the nation. The collected data will be representative of the maximum achievable speeds of broadband infrastructure buildouts to the areas an ISP services. Collectively, areas will be considered serviced so long as one ISP serves them, with the appropriate designation of underserved or unserved if speeds do not exceed 100/20.

States will be allowed to challenge maps for their federal funding opportunities if there is reason to believe that provided data does not accurately represent the broadband landscape in the respective state. Many states today collect data to build state broadband maps separate from the FCC’s national map (e.g. Utah, Georgia). These maps are able to serve as documentation to challenge those national maps and where a state may deploy federally funded projects. Ultimately, maps will be critical to determining the areas where last mile service projects can be deployed, based on the unserved and underserved populations taking precedence in BEAD funding applications.

As with other states that are already working towards developing their own state maps, Hawai‘i must also take this course of action to ensure that any potential data discrepancies can be properly challenged to ensure coverage in areas that may not qualify for priority funding. Mapping data should be reinforced with qualitative support for the hurdles to adoption and effective utilization to any given location with support strategy around community hub locations (public, non-profit/community “owned”, private sponsored/supported). Hawai‘i recognizes the need to establish a transparent broadband landscape that encourages improvement of broadband service, education on availability, and drives down costs of broadband service.

Proposed Funding Source(s): BEAD

6. Facilities to Support Free Access (via ACP) for Residents of HPHA Facilities (cross-listed under LM)

7. Rural and Community Buildouts (cross-listed under LM, MM)

Last updated: July 5, 2022