Despite the strain and suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the pandemic’s silver linings was the way it put digital inequity in our community into clear focus. We can’t address a problem we can’t clearly see.
Before the pandemic, many of us assumed digital equity and access were “givens”—people could purchase devices or internet subscriptions if they chose to do so. Or, perhaps we assumed that most people could hop online and find resources or opportunities to improve their digital skills and literacy, if they wanted to.
Unfortunately, this has not been the reality for many of our community members. Affordable broadband, internet-capable devices, and digital skills and literacy resources were out of reach for many before the pandemic, and they yet remain out of reach even as the worst effects of the pandemic appear to be subsiding. This means that, for years, thousands and thousands of our neighbors have gone without access to opportunities for virtual learning, telehealth, online banking and bill-pay resources, and innumerable other resources.
This digital divide cannot continue.
Techquity, a collective impact initiative of United Way, aims to bridge the digital divide in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington counties.
At the heart of Techquity’s vision are four strategies: Broadband, Devices, Skills, and Advocacy. The first three strategies are about increasing access: to affordable, reliable broadband internet; to affordable, up-to-date, and internet-capable devices; and to digital skills and literacy resources and training. Access to broadband, devices, and digital skills training are now undeniably essential for anyone to participate in any aspect of our society.
Techquity’s fourth strategy, Advocacy, aims to build community awareness about the digital divide, and to develop widespread support for practices and policies that expand digital equity and access for all.
To advance each of its core strategies, Techquity convened an Advisory Council in early 2021. The Advisory Council consists of local volunteer leaders who contribute their perspective and experience on our community’s most pressing challenges related to digital access, equity, and inclusion.
Members of Techquity’s Advisory Council work to advance Techquity’s ongoing projects and programs, each of which are tied to one of Techquity’s core strategies.
Most recently, Techquity planned and implemented a device distribution event in partnership with Digital Bridge, a local nonprofit specializing in e-recycling and device refurbishment. In July, United Way and Digital Bridge collaborated with Silver Spring Neighborhood Center and the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee to bring 300 computers to the residents of Westlawn Gardens on Milwaukee’s north side. It was the first major device distribution of its kind for United Way and Digital Bridge alike.
Through similar distributions in the coming months and years, United Way and Digital Bridge aim to distribute at least 50,000 computers to residents without device access. Techquity supports Digital Bridge’s existing Bridge Milwaukee model, which provides no-cost devices to students and adults and includes training materials and information about low-cost internet offerings.
Techquity continues to advance other key projects related to digital access, equity, and inclusion. In May, Techquity published an RFP to solicit proposals for a broadband feasibility study. This feasibility study would help the whole community determine where the greatest barriers exist for broadband access, and the nature of those barriers (e.g., affordability, lack of infrastructure, etc.).
Interested in supporting Techquity?
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