Opinion: A digital equity plan for Granite Staters


Published: 05-07-2024 12:06 PM

Patrick McDermott is AARP NH’s volunteer state president.

New Hampshire has a historic opportunity to expand access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet to everyone in the state, no matter where they live or their circumstances. Access, however, depends on more than wires, poles and other pieces of infrastructure. It also depends on making sure that internet service is affordable, and that all Granite Staters have the tools and the skills to use it.

I’m proud to say that New Hampshire just had its digital equity plan approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The approval is the first step in unlocking federal funding that can help underserved communities, including older Granite Staters, veterans, low-income families, people living in rural areas and others, to connect to the internet.

The plan was developed after robust collaboration with stakeholders, partner organizations and public participation. Through that work, the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs and collaborators found that while New Hampshire has made significant strides in recent years to close digital gaps, it continues to face numerous challenges, especially in rural areas.

They found that the most significant barrier to accessing and using technology for many underserved populations is a lack of digital literacy skills. They also learned from focus groups that there is keen interest among educational system leaders and policymakers at all levels in building capacity to equip all learners with essential cybersecurity skills.

AARP New Hampshire applauds the approval of our state’s plan to expand high-speed internet access and adoption across our state. High-speed internet is not a luxury. It is a necessity for older New Hampshirites. Better connectivity allows them to navigate online government services, participate in virtual medical services, find and maintain employment, meet daily needs, and connect socially. In short, it will improve the quality of life and help adults 50+ safely age in place.

This plan is New Hampshire’s blueprint to tear down the digital divide in our state. There are several key strategies that have been identified to reduce barriers to internet access. Through implementation, New Hampshire will pursue efforts to improve overall broadband availability, affordability, digital skills, device access, and sustain these efforts over time. This is no small task.

While putting this comprehensive plan together is a commendable start, there is still much work ahead of us. AARP New Hampshire looks forward to working with the Department of Business and Economic Affairs and other key stakeholders toward successful implementation of this plan. Like other traditionally underserved groups, too many older adults have been left behind for too long.

We must also maintain our focus on ensuring that internet is affordable. As New Hampshire’s plan demonstrates, wires alone can’t solve the problem of connectivity, which is why AARP remains committed to the continuation of the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides direct support to Granite Staters to help them afford internet service.

Eligible households can receive a benefit that provides a $30-$75 per month discount on the cost of high-speed internet. For many families, that can cover the entire cost of their service. There are over 38,000 New Hampshire households on the Affordable Connectivity Program and over half of these are headed by a resident 50 or older.

Right now, the program is at risk of running out of money in May. As New Hampshire, working in collaboration with regional and local partners, works to close the digital divide, it’s our hope that Congress will maintain this critical program. Older adults in New Hampshire are counting on action.