Digital inclusion is one of ten advocacy areas the Greater Cleveland American Rescue Plan Coalition’s (GCARP Coalition) focus. On October 26th, the GCARP Coalition hosted a power hour conversation about digital inclusion. This discussion was an opportunity for community members to hear from experts in the technology and digital inclusion space about how they are using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to make Cleveland more digitally equitable and connected. The stage was set with three panelists: Cuyahoga County Chief Innovation and Performance Officer Catherine Tkachyk, City of Cleveland Senior Government Affairs Strategist Austin Davis, and The Cleveland Foundation’s Chief of Digital Innovation and Chief of Information Officer Leon Wilson, and moderated by Director of GCARP Coalition, Kate Warren.
This discussion was an opportunity for community members to hear from experts in the technology and digital inclusion space about how they are using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to make Cleveland more digitally equitable and connected.
The audience asked in-depth questions and received answers that highlighted not only the awareness of the digital inclusion issues in our region but also the synergy that exists between the city, county, and philanthropic communities.
If you missed the forum, you can view it below.
Three key takeaways from the forum
1) The digital divide is a systemic problem that will take a coordinated effort to solve
Leon Wilson from The Cleveland Foundation provided an extensive overview of the origin of the digital divide crisis. He articulated that the issues of digital connectedness cannot be siloed to focus on just one aspect of the problem, and highlighted the importance of having a culturally competent approach to getting community members to access the services they need. He is spearheading a collaborative approach through the foundation is the Greater Cleveland Digital Navigators project, which employs individuals to go into the community as trusted messengers to enroll people in internet services and support them through the process to ensure that they can connect and use their services.
For more information on Digital Navigators, visit clevelandnavigators.org or call 216-307-6990
2) The City of Cleveland is taking a 2-phase approach to ending the digital divide
The city of Cleveland is working to address the digital divide in two phases:
(a) meeting the immediate need of building digital literacy, and improving access to affordable broadband plans
(b) investment in fiber infrastructure to that will modernize the city, improve services, and attract high-tech businesses.
The City is currently reviewing applications to it’s Phase I RFP and expect to select a vendor(s) by early 2023.
3) Cuyahoga County will begin their broadband program in early 2023
Cuyahoga County has used ARPA funding and $20 Million in additional state funding to partner with PCs for People on an initiative to provide no- or low-cost high-speed internet access to about 25,000 households (read more here). Their initiative focused on high-need census tracts throughout the county, mostly in inner-ring suburban census tracts.
Catherine Tkachyk shared a map of the areas that will be reached with the new service.
To make sure people have what they need, we must focus on fostering three things: trust, outreach, and engagement.
Community outreach about increased broadband coverage
The County campaign will send post cards to communities in their service areas, in addition to other outreach efforts. Affordable access is a key component of the program– the service will cost just $15 a month, and residents who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program will have the cost of their service fully covered. Tkachyk also shared that the County will be rolling out a referral program that will enable community-based nonprofits to earn a financial incentive for enrolling community members in the service. The County is also working with Digital C on a project that provides free broadband access to residents in the Central neighborhood.
In wrapping up the conversation about digital inclusion, Leon Wilson left us with “digital literacy is fluid and we must meet people where they are.” To make sure people have what they need, we must focus on fostering three things: trust, outreach, and engagement.
This forum highlighted that the city, county, and philanthropic community have a strategic, collaborative, and solutions-oriented approach to closing the digital divide.