Did you know that 24 million people across the United States don’t have access to a basic broadband connection? If that surprised you, you might be even more shocked to learn that in rural areas a quarter of Americans don’t have internet at home at all--and about the same number don’t own smartphones.This vast digital divide limits many people’s access to education, healthcare, jobs and even social events. Without broadband, communities suffer, too; that’s where the Access and Connectivity Toolkit (ACT) steps in. ACT is a way for local groups to engage their community, understand the broadband landscape, and develop a realistic action plan.

Karen Archer Perry | Founder | karenaperry@outlook.com

"These small communities have a hard time organizing to get better broadband access"

-ACT System Administrator Will Saunders.

“People in rural communities may not know where to go or who to talk to. And it’s a catch-22 because they don’t have broadband so it’s hard to get information and organize.”

Centralizing the data with a survey

The conception of this tool began with the idea of putting together a robust survey to better understand rural communities’ internet connectivity needs. The ACT team discovered a lot from the survey results.It’s not just a matter of helping communities discover what broadband companies are in the area; it’s also about helping discover what people want to do with the connectivity when they get it.They realized an app could be a great remedy—to help interested community members get together as a team, share what they know, do an assessment of what is currently available in their area, and use that information to get funding or persuade companies they have a community worth investing in.The ACT team has been working on the app for a year. In that time, they’ve created a working prototype and connected with test communities (including some in Washington state).

Solving the problem for real people

These test communities have helped the team understand what isn’t working and what is needed. “A lot of times our users are (...) farmers or elected officials in a town of 400 people, and they might have three or four other jobs,” Saunders said. “We want something that works for them.”

Karen Perry working with ACT volunteers at a DemocracyLab Hackathon, an event where skilled volunteers come together to work on civic tech projects like ACT

Data analytics volunteers needed

The short term goal for last hackathon,  was to make the interface easier for users—allowing anyone to intuitively understand what step they should take next.Their stretch goal for the upcoming hackathons is to visualize results from survey, offer a downloadable product that can be used to apply for a grant, send information to broadband providers, or make a case for better access to city counsel.Want to help? They’re looking for people familiar with data analytics and data visualization, content writing and B2B marketing.

Remotely Volunteer

Due to recent events regarding Covid-19,  Democracylab's early 2020 hackathons will be held remotely via Qiqochat - a Zoom Meeting based platform which allows users to easily move between digital rooms.Hackathons are typically held in person, but many volunteers for demoracylab's 70+ active projects do so remotely via Google Hangouts, Trello, Slack, and more.Join the team by heading to DemocracyLab.org to make meaningful change!