February 28, 2024

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Chicago Committed to Digital Equity, Expands Citywide Internet

Image credits: chicago.gov/digitalequity.

Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot recently announced the formation of the Chicago Digital Equity Council, a multi-sector, community-driven endeavour to better understand and address the nuances of digital equity and permanently close Chicago’s digital gap. “That’s why we have mobilised City funding to close the digital divide and improve internet access in our most vulnerable communities.”

She added that closing gaps in technology and learning tools will benefit their entire community and will help to assist the next generation of digitally empowered Chicagoans, adding that one of her top priorities is to provide residents with the tools they need to reach their full potential.

The Digital Equity Council will build on Chicago Connected’s ground-breaking work in K-12 education to identify and address the citywide barriers to digital equity. Chicago Connected, a first-of-its-kind broadband programme that has connected over 64,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students to at-home high-speed internet and made free digital learning resources available to families, gave birth to the Digital Equity Council.

The City of Chicago is dedicating unprecedented resources to closing the digital divide and addressing the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Chicago’s most vulnerable communities, using the Mayor’s Chicago Recovery Plan and President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s historic investment in broadband.

A group of community leaders, community-based organisations (CBOs), government agencies and digital equality subject matter experts lead the Digital Equity Council. This cross-sector leadership group, known as the Guiding Team, is striving to reinvent the interactions between people, programmes, and organisations to create systemic change. This team ensures that Chicagoans who are most affected by the digital divide are represented at the table and are at the core of decision-making.

The Digital Equity Council will host a series of Community Conversations over the next six months. The topics of discussion will include 1) Barriers to Digital Equity, 2) Community Assets and Digital Equity Resources, and 3) Co-creating Digital Equity Solutions.

The Digital Equity Council’s work will be concentrated in areas of the city with the lowest rates of at-home internet connectivity, but there will be opportunities to share experiences, perspectives, and ideas across the city through both digital and in-person or paper-based channels to ensure that everyone can participate. The events will be available in both English and Spanish.

The City understands the value of cross-sector collaboration to ensure that investments, programmes, and policies are coordinated and build on the community work already underway. The Digital Equity Council’s activities will result in a digital equity roadmap that will guide initiatives across the digital equity ecosystem.

The newly created council will also provide guidance on how to establish a long-term digital equality coalition to ensure that reducing the digital divide remains a major priority for the government, the corporate sector, and direct service providers alike.

The triple challenges of the COVID-19 epidemic, expanding economic inequality, and racial injustice facing impoverished communities and communities of colour without access to broadband internet at home have prompted the formation of digital inclusion coalitions around the country.

The City of Chicago is building on its successful efforts to date by prioritising equitable access to affordable internet for low-income, unserved, and underserved communities. When access, affordability, and digital skills training are combined, users will be able to make the most of their broadband connections, ensuring that individuals and communities in Chicago have the tools they need.

The digital divide in Chicago is a racial equity concern. Over a quarter of Chicago households lack internet access, and over a quarter lack computers. The communities with the lowest connectivity rates are predominantly Black, with median household incomes of less than $27,000 on average.

The Digital Equity Council will make recommendations to close this gap through a comprehensive community engagement strategy, resulting in a state of digital equity in which all Chicagoans have the essential digital skills and other resources to fully participate in society, democracy, and the economy.


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