This post was originally published on Michigan Chronicle

By Sherri Kolade

The answer to solving the digital equity divide is closer than we think, and it, ironically, starts with simple human interactions face-to-face first.  

“Person-to-person connection is essential to helping people get — and stay — online,” said Marvin Venay, chief advocacy officer at Tech Goes Home, a nonprofit organization with more than 20 years of experience in advancing digital equity.

“Providing high-quality digital devices and affordable internet access is key, but without personalized, culturally-competent support to help utilize those tools, too many people will remain shut out of the opportunities the digital world offers. Increasing the number of digital navigators in our communities will help more people access available resources and ensure that they are able to be online safely, comfortably, and for the long-term.”  

Striking the right balance when it comes to creating digitally equitable spaces (where inequitable, technological lack prevailed) takes intentionality, especially during COVID, as statistical data revealed the harsh experiences of Black and Brown communities facing pre-2020 technological challenges.

This includes finding out how to reconcile a major digital divide. Particularly in Detroit, statistics from 2019 show that about 35 percent of Detroit households did not have broadband internet, Mozilla reported. Since the pandemic, much has been done to reduce the divide between Detroiters and their suburban counterparts when it comes to technology.   

“Building on top of our 2021 report with this year’s data has empowered us to better understand how the digital divide impacts different communities and the archetypes of digital navigators that would be required to bridge them,” said Matt Kalmus, managing director and partner, Boston Consulting Group. “The constant result underscoring all of our efforts is that the digital divide will not close without strong coordination between both the public and private sectors.”  

This includes providing grants to community-based organizations, which Comcast did recently.  

Comcast awarded grants totaling $225,000 to three Detroit community-based organizations — Detroit Housing Commission, Human-I-T, and St. Patrick Senior Center — as part of Project UP, the company’s comprehensive, one-billion-dollar initiative to advance digital equity. The grants will support the launch and scale of Digital Navigator programs to assist individuals and families with accessing the internet and digital skills programs.   

The announcement follows the launch of a nationwide study by the Boston Consulting Group, which found that Digital Navigators are critical to closing the digital divide and reducing socioeconomic inequalities by helping more people get online. Digital Navigators are individuals affiliated with trusted community organizations who are trained to help people access the internet, use devices, and build digital skills, according to a press release.    

“Opportunity in Detroit is increasing by the day, whether [through] employment, education, affordable housing or a range of critical assistance programs,” said Mayor Mike Duggan previously. “However, in many cases, accessing those opportunities requires a computer and internet access and if you can’t access an opportunity, it may as well not exist.”  

The study surveyed 1,500 individuals across the country who received support from a Digital Navigator. With the support of these digital caseworkers:   

  • More than 65 percent of survey respondents said they obtained internet access or a computer or tablet at home; among Hispanic and Black Americans, this increased to 72 percent.   
  • More than 85 percent of all respondents said they used the internet more frequently.   
  • Almost half surveyed obtained better healthcare, and 40 percent received support with basic needs like food, rent and housing.  
  • 1 in 3 found a new job or earned a higher income.   

“Community organizations are the backbone of every city, and by empowering them with the resources they need to broaden their scope of work in digital equity, the possibilities are endless,” said Broderick Johnson, executive vice president, Public Policy and executive vice President, Digital Equity, at Comcast. “For over a decade, Comcast has invested in communities to bridge the digital divide, and we are excited for this new chapter of impact with Digital Navigators in Detroit. With both their expertise and local ties, they hold the key to making real transformative change happen for families across the city.”   

These efforts are part of Comcast’s ongoing work to advance digital equity and help provide underrepresented small business owners with access to digital tools and funding. Through Project UP, Comcast has committed $1 billion over the next 10 years to programs and partnerships that will reach tens of millions of people with the skills, opportunities and resources they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.  

Any Xfinity customer across all Comcast’s markets who qualifies for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) can apply their $30 credit toward their monthly internet and/or Xfinity Mobile bill. Customers can visit www.xfinity.com/acp, www.internetessentials.com, or call 844-389-4681 for more information, to determine eligibility, and sign up. A dedicated ACP Enrollment and Support Center is available from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. daily, with multi-lingual capabilities to assist anyone interested in the program.   

Visit www.comcastcorporation.com for more information.