AT&T continues to close CLE's digital divide with investment in Glenville

At the turn of the Millennium, the Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center (ASC3) was just an idea that Wanda Davis thought could help the Glenville neighborhood ride the coming wave of the digital economy.

A self-described community activist, Davis saw the intersection of personal computing and the internet as the opportunity to set up a center where thousands of Glenville residents would learn how to use the tools of a new trade like the Microsoft Suite and, more recently, Google’s Cloud computing programs.

Wanda Davis at the Grand Opening of the ASC3 innovative, intergenerational Connected Learning Center (CLC); the first of its kind in the Glenville area.“Twenty years ago, it was about making you aware of what was happening,” Davis says. “Today, everything we do has some relationship to computers.”

Davis adds that almost every aspect of work and personal life today revolves around computer literacy. “What we do try to do is assist individuals with no knowledge and get them empowered with skills,” she says. “Some are job seekers, some want to connect with their kids, and some want to go to school.”

In many cases, time and a lack of resources at home—like computers and internet service—have held Ashbury’s clients back. Y2K may have peddled a doomsday scenario (which didn’t materialize), but the real problem that Davis saw at the dawn of the 21st Century was a cratering of opportunity for low-income areas.

The situation was exacerbated by digital divide—a division between those with affordable internet access and those without it and the opportunities it provides.

“We didn’t have high-speed internet in the Glenville area,” Davis recalls of the situation two years ago. “But, because of the pandemic, an awareness of the lack of quality internet came to light.”

With that awareness, calls to close the digital divide then led to the inclusion of billions of dollars in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress earlier this year.

Meanwhile, AT&T has invested in opening its second Connected Learning Center in Cleveland on March 3 at ASC3—with 15 Dell computers and the installation of high-speed internet service. In addition, AT&T announced at the opening that it will contribute $50,000 toward the senior computer center’s programming.

Our investment in the AT&T Connected Learning Center at the Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center directly reflects our commitment to address the digital divide and make an impact in the communities we serve,” said AT&T Ohio President Molly Kocour Boyle. “We have also expanded our fiber network in the neighborhoods surrounding the new Center. We’re working to expand our fiber footprint and will continue delivering ultra-fast internet that helps connect the city’s underserved students and families to the technology they need.”

ASC3: Digital Literacy and Technology Training CenterThe first Cleveland AT&T Connected Learning Center launched in December at Esperanza in Clark-Fulton. AT&T has plans to open more than 20 additional fiber-driven learning centers across the country as part of its $2 billion, three-year commitment to addressing the digital divide.

“It’s our responsibility to get [ASC3 clients] connected to the right, affordable plan and device,” Davis says about ASC3’s partnership with AT&T. “The adoption rate in our community was very slow with fiber. They’re hopeful their adoption rate for high-speed service will be better.”

The company is participating in the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) that can help qualified households pay for connectivity services, such as wireless and internet plans. Davis says ASC3 is helping sign people up for the ACP, making high-speed internet more affordable.

It is even possible, she says, that her clients could have that high-speed connection at no cost.

“[AT&T] doesn’t have to participate [in the ACP], but they choose to do so. And because of that choice, they are able to deliver higher speed connectivity at an affordable cost. It may end up being free for [low-income residents], depending on the national verifier, like SNAP beneficiaries, who are not over 200% of poverty line.”

It will also depend on the strength of the ground game of a Digital Navigators program, which is being led by the Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga County  Public Library, East Cleveland Public Library, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), CHN Housing Partners, and MetroWest Community Development Organization.

These initial six agencies hired six digital navigators to get the word out about heavily discounted high-speed internet on offer from all of the major internet service providers. ASC3 and Esperanza are participating local partners.

“I think the Digital Navigator is one of best ways to ensure folks have the right information and capability to get connected.” Davis says.

The CLC will serve as a tech hub for area youth, parents, and other community members.The plan includes sending the Digital Navigators out in the field, knocking on doors, and making referrals. There is a call center to help navigate the application process. Just like in the early days of learning the basics of desktop computing, connectivity and computers will open the door to more opportunity.

“They’ll be able to go to the doctor online, or find a better job, or understand what their kids are doing in school,” Davis explains. “And their kids will be able to utilize high-speed internet for everything they work on in school.”

ASC3 client and retired truck driver, David Brewton, agrees that the new computers and high-speed internet will translate to opportunities in the digital economy, particularly for seniors and others on a fixed income.

“This is the age of technology,” he says. “The Ashbury Center has truly opened my eyes. These computer skills are very needed for myself and [for] the youth.”

Brewton appreciates that the ASC3 has expanded its hours in the evening, and he sees the new investment being a boon for connectivity of another kind—intergenerational networks.

“I could envision now where the seniors could get more involved because they feel like they would have more to offer the community at large,” he concludes. “Oh my God, I’m just imagining how productive and beautiful this could be.”

Editor's note: Portions have been corrected to correct errors. 

Read more articles by Marc Lefkowitz.

Marc Lefkowitz is a sustainability consultant with more than 15 years of experience writing, speaking and advocating for a more sustainable Northeast Ohio. He served as Director of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute and editor of its well-known blog at gcbl.org. He has a B.A. in English from Ohio State University and an M.A. in urban planning from Cleveland State University. He is a regular bike commuter and transit rider. Photo: Liz Cooper.