nonprofit works to bring 'digital literacy' to cleveland's underserved

If Northeast Ohio has a digital divide, then Cleveland-based nonprofit broadband provider OneCommunity wants to lay down enough fiber-optic cable to successfully bridge the gap.

The divide is particularly wide in Cleveland's poorer neighborhoods, says OneCommunity CEO Brett Lindsey. In response, his organization created the Connect Your Community Project (CYC). Since 2010, CYC has provided broadband training, equipment and support for nearly 8,000 Cleveland and East Cleveland residents. The group's work is supported through a $18.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

The organization's new adopters receive a refurbished computer at no cost after matriculating through the training program. They also have the opportunity to receive a free modem and affordable, high-speed home Internet service.

In modern society, everything from job postings to health care information is online, notes Lindsey. The idea is not to give Cleveland's underserved access to solitaire or funny YouTube videos, but an electronic education that will allow them to look up information on their child's school system or connect with far flung family members.

"The haves and have nots in terms of technology are significant," says Lindsey. "This is a way to get people engaged."

OneCommunity is also bringing "digital literacy" to Cleveland families with young people on track for college entry but not currently connected to broadband. Computer training and access can go far in spurring parental engagement in a student's post-high school academic career, Lindsey believes.

So far, so good, says the OneCommunity CEO. In its initial CYC data, 75 percent of parents surveyed used their home broadband connection to communicate with their child's teachers and administrators.

"We have to continue to ensure that people don't get left behind," says Lindsey.

SOURCE: Brett Lindsey
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth
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