The Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga County and T-Mobile create a Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Fund
(Plain Press, August 2020) The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on digital inequities in Greater Cleveland that bar students from accessing their education in an age of remote learning, prevent underemployed and unemployed adults from finding or applying for jobs, and deny residents – especially older adults – access to medical support through telehealth services. More than one in five households in Cuyahoga County have no internet access of any kind, with more than half of Cleveland households that make less than $20,000 completely disconnected from the digital world. Additionally, more than half of Cleveland seniors over the age of 65 have neither a home computer nor internet access.
“Internet access is critical to day-to-day life,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “Our world is becoming increasingly more technological and we do not want to see any family left behind because they don’t have access to a computer or internet. As County Executive, it’s been one of my top priorities to take a look at the ways we can decrease the digital divide and increase prosperity and quality of life in Cuyahoga County.”
The Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Fund, initially launched with $3 million in commitments, will address immediate and long-term needs surrounding broadband access, computing devices, digital literacy, and technology support. In addition, the George Gund Foundation announced a $1 million grant to support digital access needs for Cleveland Metropolitan School District students and Say Yes scholars who lack the necessary technology access and devices to learn remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, including hotspots, Wi-Fi access and laptops.
As additional partners join the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Coalition and resources grow, the Fund will be used to support a comprehensive, short-term strategy for K-12 students in Greater Cleveland, including Cleveland, East Cleveland, Euclid, Warrensville Heights and additional inner-ring suburbs that have high need.
T-Mobile will provide 7,500 unlimited data hotspots and one million dollars of in-kind equipment donations over the next two years through its EmpowerED initiative. Local organizations, PCs for People and RET3, will provide up to 10,000 computers and/or ongoing support to students in public schools and partner charter schools in Greater Cleveland.
“The Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Coalition is a comprehensive effort to keep public, private, nonprofit and philanthropic partners engaged with the overall strategy of addressing digital inequities in Greater Cleveland,” said Leon Wilson, Cleveland Foundation chief of digital innovation and chief information officer. “It will help us to best understand how to deploy the dollars in the Digital Equity Fund and it will create a unified voice as we advocate together for additional dollars to our region, as well as substantive changes to broadband policy at state and national levels.”
The Coalition will ensure organizations on the ground have the resources and political support to work quickly and effectively to bridge the digital divide. Strategies will focus on engaging and supporting students, underemployed adults, and senior citizens.
“The ability to connect to friends and family, work and education, medical care, and more has become a basic requirement of life in the 21st Century, akin to being able to make a phone call or visit in person,” said Shontel Brown, Cuyahoga County District 9 Councilwoman. “Our social, political, and economic system has created and perpetuated the digital abandonment of the most vulnerable members of our community. This program is a way that we can start to right that wrong.”
“There are many underlying reasons why a person may be cut off from the robust and interconnected digital world: lack of access to the hardware itself or perhaps digital redlining that plagues inner cities, or maybe just a lack of experience and training in using the internet,” said Yvonne Conwell, Cuyahoga County District 7 Councilwoman. “The Digital Equity Fund addresses this complex problem holistically, with multifaceted solutions.”
Coalition members are also seeking additional computers that can be refurbished to distribute throughout the community. If individuals, organizations and corporations are interested in donating used technology, please contact PCs for People at (216) 600-0014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Pre-pandemic, students without internet access beyond the traditional school day were already negatively impacted by the expanding homework gap, but this upcoming school year promises to exacerbate this digital learning gap as kids try to keep up with distance learning,” said Dr. Kiesha Taylor, T-Mobile’s National Education Administrator. “When organizations driven by a common purpose come together – as done here with the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Fund – the results can be extraordinary. T-Mobile is proud to support this much needed initiative.”
Leaders of the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Coalition include the following, with 60-70 additional organizations contributing their voice and expertise: Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center; City of Cleveland; Cleveland Foundation; Cleveland Innovation Project; Cleveland Metropolitan School District; Cleveland Neighborhood Progress; Cleveland Public Library; Cuyahoga County; Cuyahoga County Public Library; Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority; Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio; Greater Cleveland Partnership; OhioMeansJobs/Cleveland-Cuyahoga County; Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation; and Urban League of Greater Cleveland.