The cross-sector, community-driven effort aims to understand and tackle the nuanced barriers to digital equity and close Chicago’s digital divide once and for all.
Chicago is seeking to eradicate the city’s digital divide with the formation of a new cross-sector community-driven council.
The Chicago Digital Equity Council was established to understand and tackle the ‘nuanced’ barriers to digital equity and permanently close the city’s digital divide. According to the City, Chicago’s digital divide is a racial equity issue. It reports up to 20 per cent of households are without internet, and over 12 per cent don’t have computers.
Community engagement strategy
Communities with the lowest connectivity rates are more than 90 per cent Black on average, with median household incomes averaging less than $27,000. Through a comprehensive community engagement strategy, the Digital Equity Council will make recommendations to close this gap, reaching a state of digital equity where all Chicagoans have the digital skills, tools, and resources they need to fully participate in society, democracy, and the economy.
“Since the beginning of my administration, one of my highest priorities has been to give residents the tools they need to achieve their full potential,” said Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago.
“That’s why we have mobilised City funding to close the digital divide and improve internet access in our most vulnerable communities. Closing gaps in access to technology and learning tools will have a positive impact across our entire city and will support the next generation of digitally empowered Chicagoans.”
The Digital Equity Council was born out of Chicago Connected, a first-of-its-kind broadband programme that has connected some 64,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students to at-home high-speed internet and made free digital learning resources available to families.
“Equity is both an outcome and a process that results in fair and just access to opportunity and resources that provide everyone with the ability to thrive”
The council will build upon Chicago Connected’s historic progress in the K-12 space to pinpoint and tackle the barriers to digital equity Chicago residents face citywide.
Mobilising the mayor’s Chicago Recovery Plan and utilising historic investment in broadband in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the City of Chicago claims it is dedicating unprecedented resources to closing the digital divide and addressing the lasting repercussions the Covid-19 pandemic has had on Chicago’s most vulnerable communities.
“In order to solve a systemic issue like access to affordable internet, it is essential to partner with community members who are most impacted. I’m excited by the diverse expertise on the Digital Equity Council and am confident they will help lead our city to a more equitable future.”
The Digital Equity Council is led by a group of community leaders, community-based organisations (CBOs), government entities, and digital equity subject matter experts. Known as the Guiding Team, this cross-sector leadership group is working to reimagine the relationships among people, programmes, and organisations to achieve systemic change. With representation from communities across the city, this team aims to ensure that Chicagoans most burdened by the digital divide are at the table and centred in decision-making.
“Equity, inclusion, and lifelong learning opportunities are at the heart of Chicago Public Library’s mission,” said Chicago Public Library commissioner Chris Brown. “As the City’s largest provider of free broadband, we extend digital access to every age group in every neighbourhood in Chicago. That’s why CPL is proud to be part of the City’s Digital Equity Council, and our collective effort to mobilise resources towards bridging the digital divide.”
“The gap in digital resources, such as quality internet, computers, and learning tools, creates growing disadvantages for families who are low-income and experience language barriers in my community”
Over the next six months, the Digital Equity Council will be facilitating a series of community conversations. Conversations will focus on:
- barriers to digital equity
- community assets and digital equity resources
- co-creating solutions to achieve digital equity.
“The gap in digital resources, such as quality internet, computers, and learning tools, creates growing disadvantages for families who are low-income and experience language barriers in my community,” added Karina Aguilar, a community leader on the Digital Equity Council Guiding Team.
“As a Spanish-speaking immigrant, I had to teach myself how to navigate technology to support my five CPS students, especially my special needs son who requires a device to communicate throughout the day. Now, I work to support Spanish-speaking parents who are learning how to use email, create a resume on Microsoft Word, or use social media to communicate with loved ones.”