Our recommendations for addressing the three prongs of digital inequity – connectivity, device ownership, and access to training – will require a community-led “all hands on deck” approach.
Each recommendation will require commitment from the public sector – including the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, and/or the federal government – as well as our city’s private sector and broader civic community. Community anchor institutions – both government institutions like CPS and Chicago Public Library (CPL) – as well as community-based nonprofits, will play a critical role.
Through planning, execution, sustained funding, and an abiding commitment to maintain momentum and realize this historic opportunity, the city of Chicago can become the first large urban city to eradicate the digital divide, unleashing the potential of all residents to thrive regardless of ZIP code.
1. Connect All Chicagoans to Free or Low-cost High-speed Internet. Internet access is now as essential as water and electricity. Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband is necessary to fully participate in modern life. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and inspired by the FCC’s case study on Chicago Connected, the United States Congress appropriated $3.2 billion to the FCC in late 2020 to help low-income households pay for broadband service. By late 2021, the EBB Program became the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a new, long-term $14 billion initiative that provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households.
2. Close Chicago’s Device Gap. There are already enough devices in Chicago today to ensure every household can own one. Let’s refurbish and distribute them. Chicago has the hardware, technical and operational expertise, and the capacity to fully eliminate the city’s 260,000 device gap over the next three years.
With 10 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city and more than 165,000 tech workers, Chicago’s corporate sector has an ample supply of laptops and desktops. Chicago’s public sector, too, possesses hundreds of thousands of laptops and desktops, with more than 200,000 at CPS locations and thousands more owned by the city of Chicago, the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), CPL, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Transit Authority, and the Chicago Police Department.
3. Offer Free and Low-cost Digital Learning Resources That Meet Chicagoans’ Needs. For non digital natives, non-English speakers, and other populations, navigating the internet can be a barrier. Let’s remove this obstacle by leveraging existing resources and procuring new tools tailored to addressing every Chicagoan’s unique learning needs.
Chicago has an abundance of free and low-cost digital learning resources. In fall 2020, the Chicago Connected program launched its Guiding Team composed of parents, community organizations, government agencies, and digital learning experts to curate best-in-class digital resources tailored to the needs of Chicago Connected families.
Since then, 2 in 3 Chicago Connected participants have expressed interest in technology training. The Guiding Team implemented a three-pronged approach to serving families’ digital literacy needs: self-paced resources, live trainings from local CBOs, and access to citywide, one-on-one tech support.