Chicago Launches Digital Equity Council to Address Racial Barriers to Internet Access

Diving Brief

  • Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced last week the launch of the city’s Digital Equity Council, a “community effort” to help address the digital divide.
  • The local digital divide is a racial equity issue, according to the city, as communities with the lowest connectivity rates average more than 90% black. The council plans to create a community engagement strategy to help close this gap.
  • The group will be led by community leaders, community organizations, digital equity experts and government entities. They will include representatives from local communities across the city to help ensure “Chicagoans most impacted by the digital divide are at the table and centered in decision-making,” the city said in a press release. .

Overview of the dive

As Chicago’s new council attempts to close the digital divide locally, the federal government has recently made new efforts to close the gap nationally as well. President Joe Biden announced on Monday that 20 internet companies have agreed to provide discounted internet service to low-income people. The effort could potentially provide free service to tens of millions of homes, with about 40% of eligible US residents.

Following historic federal investments in broadband – including Biden’s $65 billion investment under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act – and increased focus on the digital divide by governments premises, a a new group of elected municipal officials was also formed last week to defend municipal broadband networks.

The Chicago Digital Equity Council stems from an existing local broadband program that connected 64,000 public school students to high-speed internet at home and the city plans to use federal broadband investments to help pay for the city’s connectivity works. Chicago was one of many cities — including San Francisco and Hopewell, Virginia — scrambling with new solutions amid the pandemic to help get students online for remote learning.

“Far too many Americans, especially black Americans, remain on the wrong side of the digital divide. From the West Side to the South Side, and throughout Chicago, it prevents them from fully participating in our modern society, including the many career, educational, health and social opportunities the Internet provides,” said the Commissioner of the Federal Human Rights Commission. communications. Geoffrey Starks in a statement.

Over the next six months, the city’s digital equity council plans to facilitate a series of “community conversations.” This effort will respond barriers to digital equity, community assets and digital equity, and resources and co-creating solutions to achieve digital equity, the city said.

The council, which will focus its work on areas with the lowest rates of home internet connectivity, will offer people the opportunity to share ideas through digital and in-person channels or “paper channels”. Events will also be offered in English and Spanish.

And as other cities are also working to bridge the digital divide, local leaders should seek to educate targeted communities on the value of being connected and having technology at home before rolling out any kind of plan, said Andrew Wells, vice president of the Chicago Urban League. Workforce Development and City Council Co-Chair on Digital Equity.

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