September 8, 2022
The following story appeared in the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland's 2021 annual report: 25 Years of Partnership and Authenticity.
Connecting Northeast Ohio Across the Digital Divide
The advent of the digital age created tremendous opportunity, but just as we’ve seen with other social determinants of health, individuals and families in marginalized communities are often denied access to the most basic programs and services.The digital divide deepens marginalization and disenfranchisement of the poorer residents of a community, primarily impacts people of color and is a further obstacle to citizens’ full participation in society.
Disparities in internet access have been an issue for decades, but COVID revealed the depth of the systematic deprivation of much of inner-city Cleveland’s access to information technology. In 2021, partners at Neighborhood Connections, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood, Cleveland Owns and Shine Your Light On the World Collective proposed ConnectedNEO
, an initiative to achieve digital justice in Cleveland.
Through ConnectedNEO’s partnership with SOCF Cleveland and Cleveland Central Promise, the organization put forward a plan to use mesh networking technology to build a community-owned wireless internet service provider in the Central neighborhood, with opportunities for shared, community-based ownership of the network.
“Nothing truly changes while folks are beholden to companies’ whims,” said Adam King, digital justice advocate and leader at ConnectedNEO. “ConnectedNEO asserts that flipping the traditional model on its head provides better outcomes for the users, the neighborhood and the company doing the work, because the folks traditionally ignored are in a position to demand what they deserve and need.”
The need in Central is monumental: The absence of high-speed broadband service availability in the neighborhood prevents residents from effective remote learning, applying for jobs or filing for unemployment, participating in telehealth, registering to vote and participating as informed citizens.
Because of this, Central is the pilot neighborhood for this project. ConnectedNEO received seed grant support from SOCF Cleveland, and the foundation is helping to leverage resources and forge partnerships to ensure the cooperative-ownership model might be tested and evaluated for sustainability and potential as a community wealth-building strategy.
"Sisters of Charity was the very first organization to believe in what we’re doing," said King. "In an ecosystem that’s not friendly to new ideas, especially those looking to shift paradigms, they helped legitimize the work."
ConnectedNEO will provide residents in the Central neighborhood with the critical tools of economic development through universal, equitable access to high-speed broadband internet, whether in their homes or in the community, and the opportunity for resident and worker ownership.