Making connections: DigitalC rolls out high-speed connections in seven neighborhoods

In a city that ranks at the bottom among U.S. cities when it comes to how many of its residents lack access to broadband Internet, Cleveland is moving incrementally forward to fix that problem. 
 
DigitalC, the local nonprofit that is focused on “connecting the unconnected,” announced that it has expanded its affordable high-speed connections to residents in seven different Cleveland neighborhoods—Central, Fairfax, Clark-Fulton, Glenville, Ohio City, Hough, and Buckeye-Woodhill.
 
Part of the new rollout includes residents of Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority’s (CMHA) Addison Square and Wilson Tower in the Hough neighborhood; the Riverview Tower apartments in Ohio City; and Scranton Castle in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. There are approximately 1,100 public housing units in those four CMHA properties that now have access.
 
DigitalC also partners with neighborhood groups to offer digital literacy training, tech support, and other support resources in an accessible community settingAbout 1,600 households citywide (up 35% since the end of April) have signed up for the high-speed, low-cost service from DigitalC. With a little more than two people per household living in Cleveland, that means that more than 3,500 Cleveland residents now have affordable internet broadband internet connections that were not available previously.
 
DigitalC’s internet access program does more than just connect households with internet connections and then leave people to negotiate their way through paperwork, getting approval and understanding how to use the service.

The price is less than $20 per month for high-speed internet service, and DigitalC connects customers with various subsidies available from local, state or federal programs to help with the service fees when needed.

DigitalC also partners with neighborhood groups to offer digital literacy training, tech support, and other support resources in an accessible community setting.
 
“It comes as no surprise that poverty and lack of internet connectivity are intertwined,” says Sharon Jordan, DigitalC’s interim CEO. “Access to affordable and equitable broadband on its own will not lift people out of poverty, but it can empower people to find pathways to better health, education, and economic well-being.”
 
The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey finds that Cleveland ranked last in connectivity among cities with more than 100,000 residents. There are about 79,000 unconnected households, or about 46% of the city’s households.  
 
Many believe there is a correlation between the high percentage of unconnected homes with the city’s 30.8% poverty rate—which includes 46.1% of the city’s children.
 
“We will continue to seek funding from public, private, and philanthropic partners to reach our goal of providing the City of Cleveland access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet,” says Susan Valerian, DigitalC’s director of executive communications. “Also, it's important to note that beyond connectivity, we partner with many organizations around the city to offer adoption services that include digital literacy training, laptops and tech support.”
 
The number of public and private institutions involved in making high speed internet accessible is quite extensive. DigitalC partners with Meta (formerly known as Facebook), CMHA, MetroHealth System, Dollar Bank, private foundations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), city and county government agencies, and others to connect the service to the users (broadband internet service has both public government oversee and private market economics involved). 
 
Much of the funding comes from a combined $20 million from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Supporting Foundation and David and Inez Myers Foundation.
 
“We knew, even before the pandemic, that being able to connect and access resources online was vital to a person’s health and wellbeing,” MetroHealth president and CEO Akram Boutros said in a recently statement about its partnership with DigitalC in its Connected Care pilot program. 

“Whether it is applying for a job, studying for a class, or seeing a relative who lives elsewhere, connectivity is vital. We are proud to work with DigitalC and CMHA to bring people together.”  Boutros added.

 There does appear to be more government funding programs coming. The City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have each appropriated $20 million for broadband access initiatives through American rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.  

An estimated 98,000 households—almost 18% of Cuyahoga County—have no Internet service, according to 2020 U.S. Census figures, while another 10% connect to the Internet solely through a cellular phone data plan.

The state of Ohio is now awarding Ohio Residential Broadband Extension grants to Internet service providers to alleviate the cost of expanding into underserved areas of the state.
 
On Aug. 17, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that all states and territories have now submitted applications for initial planning funds as part of the $42.45 billion plan to expand high-speed internet access. 
 
In total, the federal plan will provide $65 billion to the providers and users to ensure all Americans have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet through the Internet for All initiative

Read more articles by Daniel McGraw.

Daniel McGraw is a freelance journalist and author in Lakewood and a contributor to The New York Times, The Bulwark, and The Ohio Capital Journal, among others.