The Role of Broadband in Digital Equity

By Rhonda Foxx, Head of Social Equity Policies & Engagements at Intel

The global pandemic has changed how we learn, work, play and receive vital services. Ensuring that all populations have access to critical technology, including broadband, is not just a nice-to-do; it’s a must-do. At Intel, we recognize a shared responsibility to help close the digital divide and forge a more equitable digital transformation that spans the globe. Doing so is inherent to our mission to create world-changing technologies that enrich the lives of every person on Earth. I caught up with two of my colleagues who are working to close the digital divide every day.

Please join me in a conversation with John Roman, Director of Broadband and Regulatory Policy, and Dawn Jones, Interim Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, on Intel’s commitment to digital equity.

Rhonda: What does digital equity mean to Intel, and how is the lack of it impacting employees and communities?

John: At Intel, digital equity means working on our mission to ensure our technologies are world-changing, accessible and solve societal challenges. That is why we have a long history of working with governments globally to facilitate broadband deployment and increase digital inclusion.

The past year has been challenging, and we have seen first-hand the implications of people lacking broadband connectivity and digital access.  Without those services, too many people cannot access work, education or healthcare. It’s heartbreaking to think about the millions of students worldwide falling behind because they can’t log into their classroom or patients who cannot see a doctor.

Rhonda: From a public policy perspective, how can governments and industry support equitable access to technology and connectivity nationwide and globally? 

John: There are several public policy principles that legislators should consider to further digital equity and connect more people:

  • Adopt policies that drive market-based investment in infrastructure, thereby encouraging more significant broadband deployments broadly, including in unserved and underserved communities
  • Incentivize deeper private investment and promote public-private partnerships that can help combat digital inequity in both rural and urban geographies
  • Provide more robust investments in mapping to help identify, with geographical precision, the level of broadband speed available and invest in data-driven policymaking to address digital gaps and divides
  • Strengthen digital adoption by facilitating access to devices, digital content, and skills and training to the most underserved populations
  • Provide long-term, stable funding for state, regional, and local governments to address the digital divide
  • Ensure funding for equitable access to STEM curriculum to better equip students with the skills and tools to prepare for the future

Rhonda: How can industry leaders work with governments to bridge the rural and urban digital divides?

John: Addressing the digital divide is multifaceted; it requires collaboration to enable connectivity, access to devices, content, and education and training for all.

That’s why it’s imperative for governments and industry leaders to work together to promote bipartisan, commonsense reforms and policies that help connect the world’s most vulnerable.  An example of this is Intel’s work with the  U.N. Broadband CommissionWe contributed to their report on the digital transformation of education, as part of the Commission’s overall goal of outlining challenges and identifying solutions to the digital divide.  Part of this report addressed broadband connectivity and digital access while stressing the importance of access to devices, content, and training to ensure students are prepared more equitably for the future.

Rhonda: Since COVID-19, broadband connectivity has been an issue for many in rural and urban communities, despite being essential for remote learning and employment. What steps is Intel taking to address the digital divide and address the “homework gap”?

Dawn: COVID-19 and the increase in virtual learning has magnified the digital divide and inequities of access to technology. That’s why we committed to making technology fully inclusive and expanding digital readiness through our RISE 2030 Inclusive goals.

So, in addition to calling for more robust investments in digital readiness and infrastructure, Intel is making substantial community investments.  In August 2020, we announced our partnership with First Book, CDW-G, LEGO® Education and the LEGO Foundation, to launch Creating Learning Connections Initiative, which is designed to fuel education by supporting students in Title I-eligible school districts affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the program, we have helped provide $5 million in personal computers, software, configuration services and digital learning resources were donated. The program also provided stipends of $4,000 to each awarded district to set up home internet connectivity for kids in need. Underserved students in 17 states will receive support with nearly 15,000 devices being delivered to 45 school districts. 

Rhonda: How is Intel helping connect underserved populations to STEM opportunities? Why is this so important to the company?

Dawn: In addition to innovating solutions to solve our greatest challenges, tech companies have a responsibility to address the gap in access to STEM education. With STEM jobs growing at 17 percent in comparison to other occupations that are growing at just 9.8 percent, the stakes have never been higher for the next generation of STEM innovators to be trained and supported in critical areas like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and computer science.  It’s why we joined in the effort to connect one million girls to STEM education.  And,  we launched the first ever Intel-designed artificial intelligence (AI) associate degree program in the U.S. in collaboration with the Maricopa County Community College District.

Rhonda: Are there other public-private partnerships that Intel leads to help address critical social issues? 

Dawn: Yes, there are several public-private partnerships that we are very proud of, which are enabling Intel to address critical social issues:

  • We are partnering with 30 governments and 30,000 institutions worldwide to empower more than 30 million people with AI skills training for current and future jobs. Through initiatives like the Intel® AI for Youth program, Intel is working to advance diversity and expand opportunities for the next generation of technologists.
  • In 2017, we launched a $4.5 million program with HBCUs aimed at increasing the number of African Americans who pursue electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science fields. Our partnerships with six HBCUs—Howard University, Florida A&M, Tuskegee, Morgan State, North Carolina A&T, and Prairie View A&M—are yielding results; for example, Howard University has seen an increase in enrollment in computer science of 55% and in computer engineering of 47%, and Prairie View has added courses in embedded systems, cyber-security and AI.
  • In just the first 100 days of announcing our $50 million Intel Pandemic Response Technology Initiative to combat COVID-19, we have used technology to study and help with the diagnosis of the coronavirus, helped disrupted educators and students and supported innovative new ideas and projects.