A new Digital Equity Council made up of community-based organisations, government entities, and subject matter experts is the latest step in Chicago’s push to expand access to affordable internet across the city.
As many as 20 percent of Chicago households don’t have the internet, and over 12 percent don’t have a computer. Communities with the lowest connectivity rates are over 90 percent Black on average, with median household incomes averaging less than US$27,000.
“Chicago’s digital divide is a racial equity issue,” a statement from the Mayor’s Office said.
Members of the new council include representatives related to civic and social engagement, health, education and employment, from organisations such as Northwest Center, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Department of Public Health, Lawndale Christian Health, Chicago Urban League and Chicago Public Schools.
They will make recommendations to close the digital divide and their work will culminate in a digital equity roadmap. Over the next six months, the council will seek community feedback on issues such as the barriers to connectivity, community assets and resources, and co-creating solutions.
“Equity is both an outcome and a process that results in fair and just access to opportunity and resources that provide everyone with the ability to thrive,” said Candace Moore, the City of Chicago’s Chief Equity Officer. “In order to solve a systemic issue like access to affordable internet, it is essential to partner with community members who are most impacted.”
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Geoffrey Starks expressed support for the approach.
“We know that community is one of the strongest sources of trusted information about the many programmes currently available to help drive digital equity, including the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program,” he commented.
Expanding Chicago Connected
The Digital Equity Council will build on progress made through Chicago Connected, a US$50 million public-private broadband initiative launched in June 2020 which has so far connected 64,000 Chicago Public Schools students to at-home high-speed internet and made free learning resources available to families.
The city has committed some of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to improving broadband internet services for at least 300,000 residents. This includes US$28 million to expand Chicago Connected, which was initially primarily funded by philanthropic partners as well as Chicago Public Schools and the city. The money will be used for ‘neighbourhood-scale broadband’ that leverages city assets to increase affordability and accessibility.
“Closing gaps in access to technology and learning tools will have a positive impact across our entire city and will support the next generation of digitally empowered Chicagoans,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.
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