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Digital Access Infrastructure Plan

It is Time to Answer Dr. King’s Urgent Call: We Must Bridge the Digital Divide to Achieve Economic Equality

Nearly 100 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born into the world on the eve of a great global economic depression, and at a time of deep inequity in the United States. Most people remember him as a scion of social justice, but his larger vision for our shared greatness rested on economic justice – which remains elusive today. One of the largest enduring examples of systemic economic injustice is the digital divide.

A Pew Research study found that 34% of lower-income home broadband users have had trouble paying for their service amid COVID-19, and 63% of Black adults say that not having high-speed internet puts them at a major disadvantage in terms of connecting with doctors and other medical professionals, with similar existing concerns when it comes to getting schoolwork done and looking for jobs.

The benefits of bridging this divide are similarly stark. Deloitte found that even a point increase in broadband penetration would have created more than 800,000 new jobs from 2016-2019. McKinsey found that closing the broadband gap was one among a group of solutions that could add more than $300 billion in economic activity among Black consumers.

But Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) is working to change that by providing these institutions — 82% of which are in broadband deserts — and surrounding communities with a 360-degree suite of resources and experts to create Digital Equity Community Plans (DECP). These planning documents are critical to unlocking billions in generational funding provided for in the U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

As a result, these communities will have a blueprint to establish programs promoting digital equity, such as digital literacy and workforce development, and a detailed strategy for building out the networks required to provide high-speed broadband. SFI consults with MSIs to prepare them for their continued role as a community anchor institution in efforts to promote digital equity, literacy, and broadband to areas that otherwise would not have it to connect to online higher education and more, including health care, training, and job opportunities.

Through these transformational projects, SFI and its partners will:

INCREASE the resilience and competitiveness of MSIs and surrounding communities.

› CREATE social and economic mobility through access to education, health care, jobs and more.

› ADVANCE closing of the wealth gap in America

Building Broadband Internet access is a human right. Like the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and more, we need connectivity to thrive, the UN has declared. The benefits of access are many and far-reaching:

A 10-percentage-point increase of broadband penetration would create an average annual increase of 269,000 jobs, a Deloitte study found. And the same increase in broadband access would have resulted in $186 billion more in economic output over a five-year period.

MSIs can play a vital role in bridging the digital divide, increasing economic success, and expanding broadband to surrounding areas by leveraging their resources and expertise through:

INTERNET INFRASTRUCTURE: MSIs and surrounding communities can provide the infrastructure that encourages broadband providers to build out their network and connect whole communities to high-speed internet. These community anchor institutions also can share resources and expertise to increase coverage in underserved areas.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: MSIs and surrounding communities can engage in research and development of new, emerging technologies and applications that can increase the availability and affordability of broadband for residents. For example, they can develop low-cost, high-speed wireless technologies that can be deployed in rural areas.

TRAINING AND EDUCATION: MSIs and surrounding communities can provide training and education to residents on how to use broadband technologies and applications. This can help increase digital literacy and enable residents to take advantage of the opportunities that broadband can offer.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: MSIs can engage with the surrounding communities to better understand their broadband needs and develop solutions that meet their unique challenges. This can involve collaborating with community leaders, conducting surveys and focus groups, and hosting community events to raise awareness about the benefits of broadband.

GRANT AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES:  HBCUs and surrounding communities can apply for grants and funding opportunities from government agencies, private foundations, and other organizations to support broadband deployment in surrounding areas. These grants can be used to support research and development, infrastructure deployment, and community outreach efforts.

Education has the power to transform lives, and reliable access to affordable broadband is the conduit. SFI stands on the front line of removing barriers disproportionately faced by students attending our HBCUs, MSIs and TCUs enabling a life-changing education.

With your partnership, we will remove one of the biggest barriers — inability to connect to high-speed internet — and uncover opportunities for students as well as for the communities in which they live. From taking calculus from home to accessing telehealth, from being competitive in the job market to researching the cure for cancer, with your support, Student Freedom Initiative will connect whole communities and reimagine the wealth gap through the lens of education.