April 19, 2017
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How we’re connecting one of America’s least connected cities

Nearly 50 percent of Cleveland residents don't have broadband Internet connectivity at home; a new partnership is trying to change that

Can a new program to get more people in Cleveland connected to the Internet be a model for other communities? Photo by Flickr user Carlos Javier

I don’t consider myself a techie. I don’t know how to code. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about how my iPhone works. And although I grasp the idea of data science, I’m by no means a practitioner. Despite this and the fact that my educational background is in business and public administration, I work for a technology organization, and technology and the internet are integral to both my personal and professional life. Increasingly, stories like mine are becoming the narrative of the 21st century. Technology is permeating nearly every facet of our lives and technology know-how and skills are becoming prerequisites, not just for tech jobs but for employment across all sectors.

Meanwhile, the city of Cleveland retains its ranking as the third least connected city in the nation, behind only Detroit, Michigan and Brownsville, Texas. Approximately 50 percent of Cleveland residents don’t have broadband internet connectivity at home.

The digital divide slows workforce development

That’s an astounding figure! Think of the variety of ways you use the internet every day. From your morning news, to social media, to staying connected at work, to paying your bills, taking a class online, checking in with your child’s teacher, reviewing your test results from your doctor; the list goes on and on. Meanwhile, half of Cleveland’s residents lack the access to do any of these things.

Concurrently, Cleveland employers are struggling to fill jobs locally due to a growing technology skills gap in the region. Today, many job vacancies are only posted online, where approximately half of Clevelanders don’t have ready access to view them. It’s clear a vicious cycle is occurring, one that I believe will be insurmountable if we, as a region, fail to make inclusive, equitable access to technology a priority.

A Solution: Internet connection and workforce training programs

Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority's Cedar Extension High Rise apartment building was recently fitted with antennas that will enable the public housing structure to receive broadband Internet service. Photo courtesy of DigitalC

At DigitalC, we are committed to addressing the issues of access and digital skills building for the most vulnerable members of our population. Through two pilot programs, we will begin proving the impact of home broadband access and digital literacy training for improving social and economic outcomes for Cleveland residents. Our first program, Connect the Unconnected, will bring broadband connections to approximately 800 residents of Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority high rise communities, as well as residents of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries Men’s Shelter and students at Stepstone Academy. Recipients of the connectivity will also be provided with the opportunity to complete a basic digital literacy training course, teaching the fundamentals of computer and internet use, after which they will receive a refurbished computer to utilize at home.

Growing out of this effort at connectivity and basic training, DigitalC is also piloting ReStart, a technology skills building program aimed at creating on-ramps to the digital economy for under-employed and unemployed Clevelanders. Utilizing local assets and resources, DigitalC is collaborating with community workforce and training partners to embed digital skills training curriculum into existing workforce development programming, providing opportunities for marginalized populations to access everything from basic, foundational training in computer use, to intermediate curriculum in areas like computational thinking and Microsoft Office Suite, to certification and credentialing opportunities that can act as pathways to employment or higher education preparedness.

Together, Connect the Unconnected and ReStart are creating opportunities to chart a new course in Cleveland around connectivity and access for all. We may not all want or need to be techies, but the speed and impact of technology and innovation isn’t slowing down anytime soon. It’s up to us as a community to ensure that everyone in our region has the resources and tools to keep pace.

This article first appeared on Meeting of the Minds website.

Liz Forester

DigitalC

Liz Forester is DigitalC's Director of Programs and Partnerships, designing pilot programs and events that use technology to create smart, connected, inclusive, and globally competitive communities.