How a Boston Nonprofit CEO Helps Thousands of People Access the Internet
- Dan Noyes is the co-CEO of Tech Goes Home, a nonprofit that tackles digital inequality in Boston.
- He says he has a personal dedication to digital equity in his time working with college kids.
- Since 2010, approximately 40,000 low-income residents have benefited from TGH’s programs.
- This article is part of a series devoted to American cities that are building a better future, called “Advancing Cities”.
Dan Noyes, 45, has worked to bridge the digital divide in Boston for two decades.
His work on digital equity began when he was the director of technology for a high school in Boston public schools. In 2006, he joined Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester to lead their Individual Laptop Initiative, where each student was given a computer. But initially children were not allowed to take the devices home.
“What that meant was that this idea of trying to create lifelong learning, both at school and at home, was incredibly difficult because you have this great tool in there. ‘school and then you go home and you had nothing, “Noyes told Insider. “So we decided we had to fix this.”
The school invited parents and caregivers for digital literacy training on what their children were learning, and then families were given a computer. Noyes said the program then expanded to other schools.
In 2010, Noyes, who now lives just west of the town of Auburn, joined Technology is coming home (TGH), a nonprofit founded in 2000 that tackles digital inequalities in Boston through adult and family education, as co-CEO. He said his dedication to digital equity was personal, coming from his college students.
“I knew these children and I knew these families,” he said. “It was so depressing to think that you had all these amazing students who had such incredible potential, but one of the only things holding them back was the resources at home. It’s so unfair.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the digital divide as it has forced students to learn from home and adults to work remotely. Noyes appreciates that the issue has been taken more seriously, but said Boston (and the country as a whole) still has a lot of work to do.
Digital literacy education must be tailored to individual needs
It is difficult to quantify the problem of digital inequity in Boston. According to US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, about 15% of Boston households do not have Internet access – but, the number is likely much higher, Noyes said, because the data is derived from surveys, which often leave marginalized communities out.
The biggest problem, besides that many people do not have access to technology or the Internet, is that many others often lack the skills to use the technology.
Tech Goes Home partners with community programs, such as libraries, schools, churches and homeless shelters that serve hard-to-reach communities, and trains staff to run digital literacy classes from 3 p.m.
Each course is tailored to the needs and interests of the participants. For example, courses for the unemployed focus on finding a job, and those for the elderly focus on health or communication tools. Everyone who takes a course receives a free laptop computer and one year of free internet service.
The program targets low-income residents. Noyes said about 90% of the people TGH serves are considered “very low income” by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 85% are people of color, 50% are English learners and about 60% are women. Since 2010, around 40,000 people have passed through TGH’s programs.
Learning digital literacy online in the midst of the pandemic
TGH’s programming had always been in person – until the pandemic struck. In the summer of 2020, Noyes said his team had created a distance learning program, but setting up an online program for people who lacked digital literacy skills and internet connectivity. was a challenge.
Before the pandemic, participants received their computers after completing the course. Moving on to online classes, Noyes said he decided to send a laptop and a Wi-Fi hotspot to people’s homes so they can connect. At first he said they were worried that people would take the computer and not complete the course, but that did not happen.
“Our graduation rate was 92%, before the pandemic,” he said. “During the pandemic, our graduation rate was 92%. People stayed involved.”
The courses took place via
, and although many people have felt Zoom’s fatigue over the past 18 months, Noyes said that for the people TGH serves, it was a lifeline. Many had lost their jobs during the pandemic and were not going where they normally would.
“It was an opportunity for them to see members of their community that they couldn’t see,” he said, adding that he enjoyed going into the classes. “People were so happy to see each other. It was something special beyond learning.”
Keeping the momentum going in Boston
This month, Mayor Kim Janey and the city’s innovation and technology department commissioned a study on the availability, cost and equity of broadband in Boston to identify service opportunities and disparities by neighborhood.
“We show that everything we do is impacted by digital equity,” Noyes said. “If you go looking for accommodation, you go online. To find a job, you go online. You want to get vaccinated, you go online. If you don’t have access to this world, think about how many opportunities you’ve been denied. “
Access to the internet for low-income communities is only the first step in bridging the digital divide, Noyes said, and he believes the city will eventually be able to offer that. Today, more and more organizations are addressing the issue of digital equity. Noyes just hopes the momentum continues.