Addressing Digital Equity in Cities_
Cities and towns across the United States are innovating to deliver equitable access to broadband infrastructure, access and adoption. We have always believed that local governments are uniquely positioned to have a meaningful impact on digital advancement. And, certainly, as the past two years of the pandemic have demonstrated, hyper-local solutions to address digital equity work. From Baltimore to Detroit to Kansas City to San Antonio, cities and community stakeholders mobilized in early 2020 to advocate for digital access. Today, unprecedented federal investments in broadband and digital equity have created a historic opportunity for cities to build on their efforts to address digital access once and for all.
In summer 2021, Centri Tech Foundation and the National League of Cities (NLC) convened a series of virtual salons and one-on-one meetings with municipal leaders who are prioritizing digital equity in their cities—including mayors, city council members, and senior city staff.
Released in December 2021, the report Conversations with Municipal Leaders: Digital Equity in Cities captures the combined perspectives and experiences of 22 U.S. cities, towns and villages working to achieve digital equity. It identifies the systemic barriers communities must address in their efforts to foster digital equity, particularly for those acutely impacted by persistent racial and economic disparities. It also features actions communities are already taking to help remove these barriers and captures the resources needed to provide digital access.
The key takeaways documented in the report illustrate the current environment for municipal leaders seeking to close the digital divide in their communities:
Cities face systemic challenges to providing digital access, affordability and skills
Cities are taking action to promote digital equity
Cities need cross-sector support to achieve digital equity
As decisions are made at the federal and state level regarding the once-in-a-generation investments in broadband and digital equity, it is critical that the voices of cities are heard and that local communities are active participants in the design of solutions for digital equity.
A recognition of our country’s growing “digital divide” takes early hold among policy advocates, spurring public and private efforts to connect the unconnected via public access points, such as libraries and newly-formed “community technology centers.”
First home Broadband installations begin, with about 2.5% of American households connected via an “always-on” Internet connection, surpassing the speed of dial-up connections which maxxed out at 56Kbps.
A new nonprofit organization, One Economy Corporation, forms to help bring internet connectivity, content, and training to low-Income Americans as a means to combat poverty. One Economy’s approach has a particular focus on home-based access for all.
One Economy creates the Beehive, a new online destination for education and tools to help low-income Americans meet the challenges and opportunities related to their finances, health, education, employment, and more.
One Economy launches the Digital Connectors program in Washington, D.C. to hire and train high-school aged youth in technology skills and then deploy them to serve as technology ambassadors in their neighborhoods. This pilot program would ultimately be replicated as a national model in communities from DC to San Francisco, resulting in more than one million hours of service to low-income neighborhoods and 10,000 young people trained.
One Economy launches the Public Internet Channel, a new website devoted to bringing public purpose programming to audiences often left out of the media landscape. The effort was co-chaired by Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.
President Obama signs into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a stimulus package that includes $7.2 billion devoted to promoting broadband infrastructure and adoption.
One Economy receives the largest broadband adoption grant as part of the ARRA from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). This $28.5 million grant, backed by $25 million in private match, enables One Economy to expand its reach and impact into communities across the nation through its relationships with over 900 community-based organizations (CBOs), its connection of 27,000 units of affordable housing to broadband, and digital skills training to more than 260,000 Americans.
ARRA also commissions the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a National Broadband Plan, which was unveiled in March. The plan calls for 100 million homes to have 100/50 Mbps internet connections by the year 2020, 1 gig connections to community anchor institutions, and affordable access to in-home broadband connectivity and training for all Americans.
After 13 years of impactful work, One Economy Corporation’s highlights include: pioneering shared in-home broadband access and connecting more than 40,000 low-income households; training 10,000 Digital Connectors as tech ambassadors for nearly 1 million neighborhood residents; creating life-enhancing content and applications used by 20 million people, and creating the Bring IT Home policy campaign, which encouraged in-home broadband in publicly-financed housing in 40 states.
Mobile devices become the most common means of accessing the Internet, partly as a result of telecommunications companies' now-ubiquitous implementation of “4G” or fourth generation mobile networks, capable of transmitting data at speeds of 100Mbps.
Nearly 25 million Americans remain disconnected from broadband at home. For low-income and rural communities the numbers are worst of all–with nearly half of all households making less than $35,000/year still disconnected.
In December, a small group of entrepreneurs, including former founders of One Economy Corporation, found a new company called Centri Tech, to address tech infrastructure and adoption as a means to improve and enhance the lives of Americans, particularly the un- and under-connected.
Early in the new year, the sudden outbreak of a deadly new virus is declared a global emergency. In the U.S., and around the world, stay-at-home orders go into effect and people are left to manage their work, education, and healthcare online. Our collective lack of preparedness for this technological challenge is laid bare.
In November, Centri Tech officially launches, along with its nonprofit, the Centri Tech Foundation. Together, they lay the groundwork to execute on our new national imperative, Digital Advancement.
Local governments, places of business, and school districts all scramble to find fast and effective solutions to our now-obvious technical shortcomings. Some school systems distribute free devices to students that need them to bring classes 100% online. Internet connectivity remains a harder problem to solve, leaving many students to park outside of free public wifi hotspots to download and upload their assignments.
How did we get here?
Centri Tech Annual Report 2021