CLEVELAND, Ohio – Nonprofit broadband provider DigitalC is expanding its affordable high-speed Internet service to another low-income neighborhood in Cleveland to help narrow the digital divide in one of America’s least connected cities.
The service costs $ 18 per month and is available to 277 households in the Lexington Village area of Hough. It offers families the opportunity to work from home, connect reliably to schools, and visit their doctors online.
The project increases the number of low-income households in Cleveland receiving broadband services from DigitalC to about 950 from about 80 last year.
However, those 950 households represent only a fraction of the low-income households that have yet to be connected in the greater Cleveland area, said Dorothy Baunach, CEO of DigitalC cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer.
At least a third of Cleveland homes still lack affordable or accessible broadband service, and neighboring East Cleveland is 60% to 80% lacking.
“We need a plan for the underserved urban and district areas, and everyone has to work together,” said Baunach. “And we’re all about it.”
The latest addition to Digital C is made possible by a grant from Project Overcome, an effort by the US nonprofit Ignite to narrow the digital divide across the country. US ignites on Tuesday announced the names of several organizations in receipt of funding from the National Science Foundation.
Mari Sibley, senior director of partnerships and public relations at US Ignite, said DigitalC was selected based on Cleveland’s needs and DigitalC’s “proven focus on digital equity.”
USIgnite has also been impressed with the combination of fiber and wireless technology that DigitaC connects families with, and believes what it does in Cleveland can be replicated elsewhere, Sibley said.
The DigitalC connections use the fiber optic infrastructure operated by Everstream, which together with DigitalC comprised the former non-profit OneCommunity.
Various organizations, from the Cleveland City Council to the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Coalition, are looking for a long-term solution to the Cleveland digital divide, but no one has yet come up with a plan for the community to congregate.
Baunach said it would take at least $ 40 million upfront to seriously contain the digital divide in Cleveland.
Several options are likely to be considered, said Catherine Tkachyk, chief innovation and performance officer for Cuyahoga County, which is part of the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Coalition. They could include cable and fiber expansion as well as wireless technology, she said.
The coalition, which includes local foundations and dozens of other groups, recently asked for ideas and hopes to come up with a plan by the end of this year, Tkachyk said.
Cleveland City Council has now hired a consultant to devise a plan to close the digital divide. Council Chairman Kevin Kelley estimates that half of the city’s households are disconnected. He expects the advisor’s report in April.
“We need to have a plan that is scalable and that we can implement across the community,” said Kelley, who brought free wireless internet to his station a few years ago with money from the city’s general fund and some of the discretionary funds he had.
The program, called Old Brooklyn Connected, serves about 6,000 regular users, he said.
But this option, like DigitalC’s efforts, is a piecemeal answer to the problem. And it’s not clear what role for-profit Internet service providers like Spectrum and AT&T will play in finding a solution. Both companies offer options, but neither would say how many Cleveland residents they serve.
Spectrum, which has cable infrastructure across Cleveland, launched high-speed Internet service in September for Cleveland households with students who needed connections. Rather than dealing directly with customers, Spectrum planned to work with schools that would pool the required number of students to take advantage of the program.
A school district spokesman said negotiations with Spectrum are still ongoing and the program has not yet started. However, the school system has managed to connect all of its students this year as many portable “hot spots” have been made available that enable wireless connections.
Spectrum also announced in February that it has partnered with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority to provide high-speed internet to 19 of its properties.
One recent development that could make a difference is the $ 3.2 billion emergency broadband benefit program. Internet service providers receive up to $ 50 per month for each eligible household they serve. AT&T and Verizon have announced their intention to participate in the volunteer program. A Spectrum spokesperson didn’t say last week whether the company would be attending.
The program can only be of limited help as the money will eventually run out.
What is needed, local officials said, is a long-term solution that is sustainable. And that requires more than just DigitalC.
“I don’t think we could do it ourselves,” said Baunach.