Technology was already a challenge in many South Dallas communities before COVID-19. The impact was exacerbated during the pandemic when many students lacked high-speed internet at home.
So many adults were unable to work from home, participate in telehealth visits, attend court hearings, register for resources or even apply for job opportunities. Due to my involvement in many South Dallas focused community efforts, I have witnessed first hand many inequalities that need to be addressed, including the digital divide.
I’m co-founder of the South Dallas Employment Project. We are a true collaboration of over 100 non-profit and for-profit entities, committed to providing underserved populations with work and life skills, education programs, mental health support, transportation, housing and technological resources.
We are committed to ensuring that the communities we serve have access to technology, because we know their success depends on it. We have been fortunate to work with the CardBoard Project and the Dallas Innovation Alliance, who are on the front lines of ensuring our communities are connected despite the difficulties so many residents face in paying for hardware, software and internet services. required.
In Dallas, more than 40% of residents had no landline internet connection at home, according to 2016 census figures. Dallas has one of the worst household connection rates among the nation’s 10 largest cities. Prior to the pandemic, the City of Dallas’ equity indicators showed that 32% of black households and 27% of Hispanic households lacked internet access, compared to just 6% of white households. This has implications for both young people and adults.
It’s important that city leaders take advantage of American Rescue Plan funding to invest in our communities and connect our families to robust, reliable, and secure Internet service.
The city of Dallas received $355 million from the American Rescue Plan program. We should follow the lead of other cities and leverage those dollars to secure long-term private sector investment in our communications infrastructure. Partnering with the private sector to close the digital divide in our communities will ensure we have the experience to build, maintain, upgrade and secure these networks while leaving our future tax dollars available for other priorities. .
I support the option of partnerships with the private sector, especially given the failures of government-owned networks across the country. As an individual who strongly believes in the power of collaboration, this is a problem that requires multi-faceted involvement to solve.
A program in Tucson is a recent example where the city spent nearly $7 million during the pandemic to create its own internet network that was used by less than 1,000 homes. Officials called the program an “embarrassment” that could continue to strain taxpayers’ money given the $300,000 a year maintenance costs for infrastructure – network towers, routers and inside wiring – that have took 12 months to secure and build.
We cannot make the same mistake as Tucson and other communities with “in-between” solutions that will not reach our students and families. Instead, we should use this one-time injection of federal funds to attract investments that will benefit areas like South Dallas communities now and for future generations.
Froswa’ Booker-Drew is CEO of Soulstice Consultancy, Managing Partner of the South Dallas Employment Project, and author of the recently published book, “Empowering Charity: A New Narrative of Philanthropy.” She wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.
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