CLEVELAND – Last month, Cleveland – one of the least connected cities in the country – hosted hundreds of state, local and tribal leaders from across the United States for the Broadband Access Summit led by The Pew Charitable Trusts. During the conference, digital inclusion leaders, policy makers and community advocates discussed how we can effectively spend the unprecedented levels of broadband infrastructure funding.
The irony — and frustration — of Cleveland’s status as one of the least connected cities in the nation is that we are home to a number of early digital inclusion leaders who helped bring the issue to the national stage.
Leaders like Bill Callahan, who created one of the first computer refurbishment and training projects in the nation and successfully advocated for Cleveland City Council to create a $3 million neighborhood technology fund dollars, underwritten by the city’s cable company and now known as the Spectrum-Cleveland City Council Neighborhood Technology Trust Fund at the Cleveland Foundation. And Wanda Davis, who founded the Ashbury Senior Community Computer Center, which trained thousands of Cleveland residents in basic computer skills.
So why haven’t we made more progress towards digital equity?
The answer is leadership, and the opportunity to reverse that trend is now. As Mayor Justin Bibb sets his administration’s priorities and staff, he has the opportunity to shape a digitally equitable future for the citizens of Cleveland and ensure we use our resources to become a success story, not a cautionary tale. .
Here are three things Cleveland’s new leadership team can prioritize right now to help everyone in our city be part of the connected world:
1. Make digital equity someone’s job
The City of Cleveland recently announced the creation of a Digital Equity and Inclusion Officer position with funding from the Rocket Community Fund and the Cleveland Foundation. Good. Across the country, cities that have dedicated local leadership solely responsible for digital equity and inclusion are outperforming their peers. All the ingredients are here in Cleveland — now we’ll have someone who can put them together.
2. Create the immediate and long-term workforce that will connect everyone
Welcome to the next supply chain issue! The organizations that will build our new broadband infrastructure are already short of climbers, systems engineers, and network operations experts — and they’re just getting started.
Additionally, each state must have a digital inclusion and equity program in order to receive federal funding. Governments need a pool of people who understand the unique intersection of technology, policy and grassroots digital inclusion work needed to bridge the digital divide.
Some states are already partnering with magnet schools, vocational schools, and community colleges to establish training programs, which will lay the foundation for future broadband projects and ensure continued growth. The Marconi Society, an organization dedicated to digital equity of which I am president, has partnered with Arizona State University to create a first-of-its-kind digital inclusion leadership certificate to to help build the digital equity workforce.
3. Plan now for sustainable funding
Experience shows that we are caught in the immediacy of the moment with large influxes of funding. This creates a start-and-stop environment that has a big impact in the moment, then shuts down when the funding stops. From now on, we must hire, train, and plan our programs to ensure long-term sustainability and continued impact for the people of Cleveland.
As a Cleveland native and digital inclusion advocate, I am energized by the recent national focus on digital equity, which is integral to achieving social, economic and gender equity due to its interconnections across so many aspects of life. Cleveland residents deserve access to life-changing connectivity opportunities, from educational resources to job training to social engagement. This is our chance to make this dream a reality.
Samantha Schartman-Cycyk is president of the Marconi Society, a nonprofit dedicated to digital equity. During her 20-year career, she has implemented cutting-edge programs to impact digital inclusion locally and nationally, through projects with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), community trainings and data collection efforts.
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