Letter from CEO, Rey Ramsey_
We live in a time when everything seems to speed up and it can be hard to take a breath. Our news cycles are short, economic dislocation and realignment are omnipresent, and a global health pandemic both expanded and contracted our perceptions about what matters most. In this time of tumult, digital technology has remained a constant. It has shaped how we live, work, play, and sometimes even survive. Yet despite the obvious importance of these technologies, we have not taken a sufficient strategic pause to determine how best to harness its full potential as a means to lift those who are in most need. Intellectually, the potential already exists to utilize technology as a positive tool in education, health, elderly services, financial literacy, and so much more; but where is the collective strategy and implementation?
Perhaps our failure to advance beyond surface outcomes is rooted in the absence of a holistic vision, or because we lack the will to allocate significant resources. In plain sight, however, is the ubiquitous through-line that cuts across most issues in America–the dynamics of race, geography, class, and culture. The failure to account for these issues saps the potential for even the most promising solutions. It’s time for a new and effective way forward.
Let's raise our gaze from the language and aspirations of yesterday’s “digital divide.” Our plans and our goals must evolve from a deficit mode and seek to advance the standard of living and quality of life of individuals. The technological capacities can meet the emerging aspirations.
Let’s recognize that low-income people are consumers too. Like many of us, they have internalized the consumer preferences of the digital age (choice, customization, content, and convenience) and do not wish to be passive recipients of social programs. Adoption is all about the new customer.
Let’s turn away from solutions that mimic analog programming where separate entities work in silos to deliver what they think the individual needs. The mad scramble during COVID, however well-intentioned, will not yield sustainable benefits. It’s the long-term intentions that matter most.
Let’s convert gate-keepers from agencies that shrink aspirations of the poor and the digital have-nots into facilitators of success. Too often, they focus on internal outcomes and turn away good ideas because they fear the very innovations they tout. We ought not choose to finance affordable housing but then determine that there is no room to treat affordable broadband as essential infrastructure. Why fall prey to these false choices?
Isn’t it time to embrace a new North Star where we determine that the relentless pursuit of people-centric outcomes is the core of all we do? We live in a time where the technological capacity can and ought to converge with our needs and our potential.
Together, we will create a new norm. We know that it is time.
The Blueprint for Digital Advancement_
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