According to US census data and a 2018 study, Cleveland is the fourth-worst-connected city in America. Roughly 44% of homes have no broadband service beyond cell phone data plans. Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), is responsible for the leadership and daily management of Cleveland’s 38,000-student school district. Gordon is determined to tackle the digital divide, one of the city’s most persistent problems.
Cleveland’s school district partnered with local nonprofit DigitalC to provide connectivity to students, regardless of socioeconomic background. “We’ve got to make internet a utility like we did with electricity 100 years ago,” declared Gordon. As a result, the district pays $25/month per home to connect every family.
Founded in 2015, DigitalC, an Ohio-based nonprofit, focuses on building equitable access to digital services, resources, and tools to create opportunities for quality-of-life improvements in healthcare, education, and employment. DigitalC’s pilot project built a network and provided devices for 550 Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority residents for free. It also launched EmpowerCLE, which uses a network of line-of-sight radio transmitters mounted on tall buildings to give another 200 customers internet access for about $18 per month.
CMSD and DigitalC worked collaboratively to spread the word about this initiative, hosting community events, walking door-to-door around neighborhoods, and engaging with local community organizations and media sources, like City Club and Ideastream Public Media.
“The partnership would be a rare one in the United States, at least on a citywide scale, according to digital access experts, and a possible model for other school districts across the country,” writes The 74.
As of spring 2023, the CMSD and DigitalC partnership has connected nearly 900 households, and DigitalC is working with other organizations like Metro Health, Dollar Bank, and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority to connect more CMSD families.