Eastern Kentucky communities are steadily gaining access to high-speed broadband. We owe a great deal of thanks to the hard work of community coalitions and partners across the region.
While this progress is a major step in the right direction, the work can’t stop here. We won’t get the full value from our investments and sweat equity until every resident can take full advantage of the internet and the opportunities it offers.
SOAR founded the Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy to help every resident:
- Use the internet to pursue remote careers.
- Participate in social and civic engagement.
- Take steps to improve their health.
- Access education and career training.
- Enhance their lives and overall well being.
The Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy has been a part of our Blueprint for Appalachia since day 1. A generous grant from National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) makes our first 3 years of programming possible.
Let’s explore what the Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy will offer our communities — and how you can leverage our services to support economic mobility for your residents.
Our priorities for Eastern Kentucky residents: Digital equity and digital literacy
Digital equity is a guiding principle for the Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy. SOAR’s main objective is to ensure residents have what they need to participate successfully in our increasingly internet-based economy, society, and democracy.
Closing the digital divide starts with correcting inequities. 24% of adults with household incomes under $30,000 per year don’t own a smartphone. Approximately 40% don’t have broadband or a computer at home.
After receiving an at-home internet connection and device, inexperienced internet users often need guidance to use them effectively.
We’ll start to observe the full benefits of our broadband investments emerging after residents receive digital literacy skills training.
Our target objectives for program participants include:
- Increased economic mobility, thanks to a wider pool of career opportunities.
- Improved health outcomes resulting from better access to preventative care and online wellness resources.
- Broader access to education and career training opportunities.
About the Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy
SOAR established the Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy to promote increased adoption of broadband, connected devices, and cost-offset programs.
The work from this office will provide:
- Counseling on programs that subsidize service and device costs, including the FCC Affordable Connectivity Program.
- Digital skills training for residents to make the most of their new connections and devices.
During our 3-year initiative, SOAR will work with 6 counties: Elliott, Jackson, Magoffin, Morgan, Owsley, and Wolfe. We’ll start with 2 counties in year 1, reach 4 counties by year 2, then conclude our service across all 6 counties by year 3.
Our alliances with local schools, internet service providers, and community action agencies will make this work possible. SOAR’s continued partnerships with the University of Kentucky Extension Offices and local public libraries will also support the program with meeting space in each county.
Digital skills training
Digital skills training will help bridge the digital equity divide.
“In areas of our region where connectivity is in place, we must work to create greater awareness around the benefits of such connectivity,” said Colby Hall, Executive Director of SOAR. “This ultimately leads to higher adoption rates and more people utilizing connectivity to improve their quality of life.”
The Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy will provide 1:1 training opportunities to residents seeking to improve their internet-related skill sets. Sessions will cover critical-need topics such as:
- Using a search engine effectively
- Identifying quality information sources
- Rooting out sources promoting misinformation and disinformation
- Creating a resume and LinkedIn profile optimized for a remote job search
- Accessing telehealth resources
- Sourcing career certifications and training online
After undergoing digital skills training, more individuals struggling with unemployment or underemployment will understand best practices to go after high-value opportunities online. Distressed communities will have greater access to grow and thrive — which will be the biggest and broadest benefit we expect from this investment.
Digital Navigator to serve residents in 6 Eastern Kentucky counties
SOAR is implementing the NDIA’s digital navigator (DN) model.
A dedicated digital navigator will steward the Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy’s work across all 6 counties. The DN’s services will include:
- Training residents on internet and device adoption
- Providing 1:1 assistance with internet service and device affordability program applications
SOAR recently hired its first digital navigator. Lizzie Gillum has roots in Eastern Kentucky, a successful track record with the SOAR team, and a vested interest in seeing our residents succeed.
As Eastern Kentucky’s DN, Lizzie will work with residents that meet at least one of the following conditions:
- Households with no access to the internet or a connected device
- Low-income, work-eligible adults
- Adults over 25 without a high school degree
- Residents eligible for FCC subsidy programs, such as the Affordable Connectivity Program and Lifeline
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance, with funding from Google.org, selected SOAR as 1 of 18 coalition partners to support online skills development in underserved communities.
This 3-year grant program will help SOAR amplify the important connectivity work completed by local internet service providers throughout Eastern Kentucky:
- Mountain Telephone (Elliott, Morgan, and Wolfe counties)
- Foothills Communications (Magoffin County)
- Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (Jackson and Owsley counties)
What’s in store
Looking ahead, Office leadership will be continuing the work by expanding partnerships and programming.
The Office intends to deepen our digital upskilling and reskilling practice by training residents on advanced topics to support remote career paths. And ideally, our staff will also help residents connect with employers offering high-paying remote jobs.
The Digital Equity Act is supplying money directly to states to help communities become full participants in our 21st-century economy and society. Soon, Kentucky will issue grants to support regional organizations putting in the work to close the skills and connectivity gap.
Our plans align with SOAR’s Blueprint for Appalachia: 21st Century Workforce by providing a pathway to retain more residents and increase the population.
Get involved with the Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy
SOAR is in the process of launching the Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy. We’re in the process of creating programming that will help residents find online solutions to their most critical needs.
If you live in Elliott, Jackson, Magoffin, Morgan, Owsley, or Wolfe counties, we want to hear from you. Submit an interest form today to signal your interest.
When we’re ready to launch programming in your area, we’ll have you on our list. A SOAR representative will get in touch after your submission to confirm receipt.
In the meantime, be sure to spread the word! If you have friends, family, or neighbors who would benefit from our services (and live inside these 6 counties), please encourage them to complete a form, too.