#Disconnected: COVID-19 & the Digital Divide

April 24, 2020  • Aspen Digital

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the widening digital divide. Roughly one-in-five American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users with no access to home broadband service or laptops. Low-income Americans and communities of color are particularly disadvantaged. As schools move to distance learning, workers are displaced from their jobs and public services move online, the need for an affordable, reliable broadband connection and productivity technology is even more acute. This webinar explores the challenges and opportunities to provide access to communities in need.

We will be joined by:

  • Geoffrey Starks, Commissioner, FCC
  • Jim Steyer, Founder & CEO, Common Sense Media
  • Larry Irving, former Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, NTIA and CEO, The Irving Group
  • Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy
  • Vivian Schiller, Executive Director, Aspen Digital


Commissioner Geoffrey Starks has been a champion for the millions of Americans who lack access to or cannot afford a home internet connection. Before he was appointed Commissioner, Starks helped lead the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, handling a wide variety of complex investigations. At the Department of Justice, he served as a senior advisor to the Deputy Attorney General on a variety of domestic and international law enforcement matters and received the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service—the highest honor award a DOJ employee can receive. Commissioner Starks is also a leader on national security policy, working to eliminate untrustworthy equipment from America’s communications networks. His Find It, Fix It, Fund It initiative brought national attention to the urgent need to support small and rural companies as they work to make their networks more secure. Before he entered federal public service, Commissioner Starks practiced law at Williams & Connolly, clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, served as a legislative staffer in the Illinois State Senate, and worked as a financial analyst. Commissioner Starks graduated from Harvard College with high honors and Yale Law School.

Jim Steyer is a best-selling author, popular Stanford University professor, and founder and CEO of Common Sense, a leading organization focused on helping kids and families thrive in a world of media and technology. In September 2020, Jim will publish a new book, Which Side of History: How Technology is Reshaping Democracy and All of our Lives. Prior to launching Common Sense, Jim was chairman and CEO of JP Kids, a leading educational kids’ media company. Jim grew up in New York City and went to college at Stanford University. Jim lives in the Bay Area with his wife, Elizabeth, and their four children, Lily, Kirk, Caroline, and Jesse.

Larry Irving, CEO of the Irving Group, a technology consulting firm,  produced the first empirical study proving the existence of the “Digital Divide.” This groundbreaking research sparked global interest in digital equity issues and continues to be widely cited today. As assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) during the Clinton Administration, Irving helped establish some of the earliest and most foundational U.S. domestic and international Internet policies. Irving is a graduate of Northwestern University, and serves on the University’s Board of Trustees, and Stanford Law School. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Education Networks of America. In September, 2019, Irving was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame for his work identifying and advocating solutions to the “Digital Divide.” He is the first African American elected to the Internet Hall of Fame.

Gigi Sohn is a Distinguished Fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy and a Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and on the Advisory Board of the Open Markets Institute. Most recently, Gigi was an Open Society Foundations Leadership in Government Fellow and a Mozilla Fellow. From 2013 to 2016, Gigi was Counselor to the former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler. From 2001-2013, Gigi served as the Co-Founder and CEO of Public Knowledge, a leading communications and intellectual property policy advocacy organization serving the interests of consumers in Washington. She was previously a Project Specialist in the Ford Foundation’s Media, Arts and Culture unit and Executive Director of the Media Access Project, the first public interest law firm in the communications space. Gigi holds a B.S. in Broadcasting and Film, Summa Cum Laude, from the Boston University College of Communication and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She lives in Washington, DC with her wife, Lara Ballard, their daughter Yosselin and their cats, Pepe and Zap.

Vivian Schiller is Executive Director of Aspen Digital. Over the last 30 years, Vivian has held executive roles at some of the most respected media organization in the world. Those include: President and CEO of NPR; Global Chair of News at Twitter; General Manager of; Chief Digital Office of NBC News; chief of the Discovery Times Channel, a joint venture of The New York Times and Discovery Communications; and head of CNN documentary and long form divisions. Documentaries and series produced under her auspices earned multiple honors, including three Peabody Awards, four Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, and dozens of Emmys. Schiller is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and a Director of the Scott Trust, which owns The Guardian. She is also strategic advisor to Craig Newmark Philanthropies.