City Allocates $15 Million to Expand Access to Digital Resources

Published on November 02, 2023

City of Columbus Skyline Along the Scioto Mile

Today Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady announced a joint commitment of $20.2 million to Smart Columbus on behalf of the Franklin County Digital Equity Coalition. These important funds will lessen the digital divide in our community, ensuring all under-resourced residents have greater access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet, and the digital resources necessary to live, learn, and earn online.

The digital divide is the gap between those who do and do not have access to affordable, reliable internet, devices, and digital skills. According to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey, in Franklin County:

  • Over 80,000 households (10%), representing over 200,000 people do not have a home Internet subscription, and
  • Over 66,000 households (5%) do not have a computer.

In addition, one-third of working-age Americans possess limited, if any, digital skills, and one in six are unable to use email, web search or other basic online tools according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. By ensuring under-resourced residents have access to affordable, reliable residential Internet, connected devices and digital skills training, participation in the modern, digital economy can be inclusively expanded.

"Having reliable internet is as crucial as having access to clean water and electricity," said Mayor Ginther. " Every resident deserves to have full access to affordable, high-speed internet as well as the digital devices that bring these services directly into the home or the palm of your hand – regardless of one's ability to pay."

Legislation before Columbus City Council will authorize $15 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, and Franklin County will contribute $5.2 million to support this initiative. Altogether, these funds will do the following:

  • Increase access to affordable, reliable home internet among the 80,000 households that are currently underserved by at least 50 percent.
  • Distribute 10,000 computers, tablets, smartphones or other internet-enabled devices to households in need.
  • Deploy decentralized digital skills training programs at community organizations, equipping 10,000 residents with new digital skills.
  • Establish a digital equity ecosystem in which 1,500 trained advocates (librarians, school counselors, social workers, etc.) across 100 partner organizations are aware of the issue, sharing resources, deploying support programs and raising awareness.
  • Invest $800,000 in competitive grants to partner organizations for digital inclusion programs.
  • Establish an ecosystem of local companies and community organizations to provide a steady, sustainable stream of low-cost, high-quality devices to residents in need.

“Empowering underserved residents with affordable digital access to health care, financial management and job opportunities represents significant steps forward to generational and impactful progress in Franklin County,” said Board of Commissioners President John O’Grady. “My colleagues and I remain unwavering in supporting our neighbors, and this initiative is a testament to our dedication in fostering positive change and bridging the digital divide.” 

Select pilot programs are currently underway and will be deployed at scale in 2024. Additional pilot programs will be launched and scaled in the years to come, with full scale operations in place by 2027. 

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