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Focus groups ask Idahoans about digital access

A person's hands holding a cell phone
Joshua Hoehne

How might Idaho make it easier for people to access the internet and get up to speed on digital skills? That’s the focus of ongoing research that will shape a new statewide plan.

Idaho received about $5 million last fall to create a roadmap for all residents to fully participate in a digital world. The money came from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and is part of the Digital Equity Act.

The Idaho Commission for Libraries is the lead state agency drafting the plan, and it hired the Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State University to gather data to unpack the barriers people face in accessing the internet, digital services and technology.

Matthew May, a researcher at the Policy Institute, said his team is sending out two surveys to determine Idaho’s current baseline for internet access. One will target Spanish-speaking households.

“Do you have access to high speed internet at home?” he said is an example of a question they might ask. “Do you have to go to a public space like a library or a government office in order to access the internet?”

The focus is both on access – whether someone has broadband in their area, and even so, if they can pay for it – and knowledge, such as awareness of cybersecurity. The Commission is working in collaboration with Idaho’s Broadband Advisory Board, which is also in the midst of its own plan to increase high-speed internet access.

In addition to English-language learners, the federal government wants states to gather information on internet usage among other underserved populations like those in rural areas, people with disabilities, people aged 60 or over, veterans and households with incomes at or below 150% of the poverty line.

May is also holding several focus groups at libraries this year. Then his team will analyze the data to draft a state digital access plan that should be available for public comment in July.

There will be more federal funds for states to implement the plans.

Upcoming focus groups

Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State University is hosting focus groups at libraries around the state. These are opportunities for people to share the challenges they have accessing the internet, digital services or technology. Focus groups have already been conducted in Burley, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and McCall.

  • Nampa
    • Date: March 30, 2023
    • Time: 6:00 pm
    • Location: Nampa Public Library
    • Address: 215 12th Ave S, Nampa, ID 83651
  • Pocatello
    • Date: April 4, 2023
    • Time: 6:00 pm
    • Location: Marshall Public Library
    • Address: 113 S Garfield Ave, Pocatello, ID 83204
  • Preston
    • Date: April 5, 2023
    • Time: 5:45 pm
    • Location: Larsen-Sant Library
    • Address: 109 S 1st E, Preston, ID 83263
  • Salmon
    • Date: April 6, 2023
    • Time: 11:00 am / 2:00 pm
    • Location: Lemhi County District Library
    • Address: 300 Main St, Salmon, ID 83467
  • Sandpoint
    • Date: April 12, 2023
    • Time: 5:00 pm
    • Location: East Bonner County Library District
    • Address: 1407 Cedar St, Sandpoint, ID 83864
  • Coeur d’Alene
    • Date: April 13, 2023
    • Time: 5:00 pm
    • Location: Coeur d’Alene Public Library
    • Address: 702 E Front Ave, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814
  • Grangeville
    • Date: April 19, 2023
    • Time: 10:30 am / 2:00 pm
    • Location: Grangeville Centennial Library
    • Address: 215 W North St, Grangeville, ID 83530
  • Hailey
    • Date: April 19, 2023
    • Time: 3:00 pm
    • Location: Hailey Public Library
    • Address: 7 W Croy St, Hailey, ID 83333
  • Orofino
    • Date: April 20, 2023
    • Time: 3:00 pm
    • Location: Clearwater Memorial Public Library
    • Address: 402 Michigan Ave, Orofino, ID 83544
I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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