Amber Petty is senior manager of national programs for EveryoneOn, based in Washington, DC. Digital Charlotte interviewed Ms. Petty immediately after the 2018 North Carolina ConnectHomeUSA Summit, which took place June 20 at Queens University of Charlotte.
What digital inclusion trends do you see around the United States?
As I travel around the United States I see a trend of people understanding that the Internet is the way of the future. They understand that it’s an information superhighway, it’s important and integral to our daily lives. But I think there’s a distinction to be made between things and people. Things are moving online at a much faster rate than people, and if we could just tie those curves together, to say, “As I move this housing process online, as I move this healthcare online, I got to make sure that we’re moving the people I serve online.”
What persistent issues keep coming up?
Most people don’t know the most digitally divided people aren’t in rural America. They’re actually in urban centers and affordability is their barrier. So we just need to make sure that people are understanding how it’s a return on investment for everyone to be online. A society thrives when everybody thrives so if more people are online, if more people are participating in the digital society, not only is our economy stronger, but we have more civic engagement. There’s talk about how people don’t come to town halls. But if they knew about them, they would. I have a Twitter account, I follow someone’s newsletter that’s how I know about them. But my grandmother doesn’t know. My neighbors don’t know. I have to knock on their doors and tell them because they’re not connected.
What cities stand out nationally for digital inclusion?
The approaches look different in every community because it has to work for you. But I think there are some standouts, and Charlotte actually is one of those standouts. Having a nonprofit like Digital Charlotte is really a blessing. Not everybody has that. Not everybody has a partner who focuses solely on this. And it’s even harder when you don’t. I think about New York, and I know Mayor Bill de Blasio has a 10–year plan that includes Digital Inclusion and building out wi-wi infrastructure within New York. You would think New York City, well, of course they have connectivity. They actually aren’t a lot of options for folks in New York City. There aren’t, and he recognizes that and wants to help the city to build out resource where they’re lacking. I think about a Portland, Oregon, where they’re trying to do that in the Pacific Northwest. They just held their first digital inclusion summit.
Also in Louisville, Kentucky, where they’re not only really, really behind digital inclusion but have engaged their local businesses to say, “We know that you guys need a qualified workforce. Let’s build Code Louisville. Let’s build out our Urban League. Let’s make sure that not only are we sending our residents to you, but we’re going to make a specific class for public housing residents. We’re going to make a specific track for public housing residents to make sure that we’re getting them in the door.