New report details the impact of digital inequities on remote court and government proceedings

Posted on May 12, 2022

Cut off from the courthouse

Following a year-long partnership, the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, and Next Century Cities released Cut Off from the Courthouse: How the Digital Divide Impacts Access to Justice and Civic Engagement.

The report features interviews with 27 professionals who have grappled with the transition to remote court and government proceedings, a practice made commonplace during the COVID pandemic. Even as social distancing restrictions are lifted, many aspects of virtual proceedings are here to stay.

Key findings from the report

  1. Lack of adequate broadband access, devices, and digital literacy skills entrenches existing inequalities that civic institutions are working to eliminate.
  2. Remote hearings should be optional. In the courts, remote hearings can be effective for ministerial legal hearings and some substantive civil hearings. For civic institutions, remote hearings can increase access, but they can also exclude residents contending with digital access and adoption barriers.
  3. Deficiencies in public awareness of broadband affordability programs or community broadband services ensure that they remain underutilized.
  4. Lack of trust in government affordability programs can be just as much of a barrier to broadband affordability programs as lack of information.
  5. Mobile Internet service and devices are not sufficient for equitable access to courts, legal services, government proceedings, and public benefits.

What does the report mean for broadband policy in your community?

  • Prioritize access and adoption. Investments in affordable broadband service offerings, devices, and digital skills training help residents share their voice, apply for government services, and stay informed about local emergencies. NCC’s case studies explore a variety of initiatives in communities across the U.S.
  • Partner with community organizations. Government partnerships with local organizations may help reduce trust barriers that prevent some households from enrolling in broadband affordability and access programs. Efforts in communities like Baltimore, Maryland, serve as important models for communities nationwide.
  • Plug into existing relationships with people who need broadband. Public defenders, legal aid offices, and other legal service providers are potential ambassadors who can promote broadband adoption programs in low-income communities.
  • Support enrollment in broadband subsidy programs. Local governments play an important role in ensuring that residents know about and have the support they need to enroll in affordable Internet programs. Learn more about how your community can support the Affordable Connectivity Program.
  • Invest in local solutions. Communities across the country utilize a range of models to expand broadband access and improve adoption. NCC’s Becoming Broadband Ready Toolkit offers a guide for local leaders building momentum in their communities.


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