Talk Justice, an LSC Podcast: The Digital Divide is About More than Internet Access

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Carl Rauscher
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WASHINGTON—The COVID-19 pandemic has caused courts—previously slow to adopt new technology—to leap into prioritizing digital services. As legal aid and court services increase the use of online tools, there is a concern that people without access to technology and high-speed internet will be left behind. This gap, referred to as the “digital divide,” is the topic of Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) Talk Justice podcast released today. 

LSC Emerging Leaders Council member Jason Tashea hosted the conversation with Katherine Alteneder, consulting senior strategic advisor at the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN); Leslie Powell-Boudreaux, executive director of Legal Services of North Florida; and Sean McDonald, CEO and founder of FrontlineSMS and principal at Digital Public. 

Beyond the simple question of broadband internet access—which the FCC reports 19 million Americans still do not have—there are many other factors at play when it comes to a person’s ability to engage with the legal system online, like owning devices compatible with the necessary software, affording the cost of data, living in a home with reliable electricity, and having the tech literacy needed to navigate these systems. 

“We talk about the digital divide because it is sort of the latest layer on top of the stacked set of assumptions about access to infrastructure and what that means about equity in the ability to participate,” explains McDonald. 

Powell-Boudreaux has seen that current digital services are inaccessible for many of the people her organization helps in northern Florida. When she couldn’t find the data to illustrate this gap, she reached out to SRLN. Alteneder’s geospatial team put together a Digital Divide Dashboard to make the information accessible and create a data visualization that provides much needed context to the state’s conversation around mandatory e-filing for self-represented litigants. 

“Some of the proposals [in Florida] if they were to go through, would almost overnight disenfranchise nearly three million people,” says Alteneder. “Well-designed services require market segmentation: who are we serving and what do they need? And we now have hard data that tells us that.”

Currently, Powell-Boudreaux says legal aid organizations have been forced to fulfill the role of educating people on how to interface with the courts digitally. She worries about what will happen if the scale-up of digital services continues without the proper support in place. When the hurdles become too many, she explains, some people will just sit back and not even attempt to participate. 

“Systemically it affects the credibility of the justice system in such a significant way that it may not be something that our communities can come back from,” Powell-Boudreaux says. “They simply may not try to access it.”

Talk Justice episodes are available on LSC's website and on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple and other popular podcast apps. The podcast is sponsored by LSC’s Leaders Council.  

Future episodes of Talk Justice will examine the impact that the pandemic is having on domestic violence and look back at major developments in the access to justice community in 2021. 

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

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