A student at Queens University of Charlotte works on digital literacy skills with a Charlotte resident at Grier Heights Community Center, April 2017.

Charlotte’s ‘Digital Divide’ tied to troubling gap in economic mobility

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Imagine having no access to the internet as you look for a job in Charlotte. As you search for a place to live? Help your children with their homework?

Imagine being a homeless student, where your only permanent address is on the internet – but you don’t have access to the internet.

A new report issued Sept. 27 by the Charlotte Digital Inclusion Alliance, a group of government, education, and community organizations, says these scenarios are reality for 19 percent of Charlotte residents who lack internet access. In some neighborhoods, this number reaches 40 percent, and data shows that the inequity in digital resources mirrors the areas of economic inequity identified by the city’s Leading on Opportunity Task Force.

Internet access is imperative to address economic inequity that plagues Charlotte, the report says, and online resources are critical for both the economic development of the city and the vocational development of residents. Titled “Charlotte Digital Inclusion Playbook,” the report was researched and issued by the Charlotte Digital Inclusion Alliance, which includes about a dozen government, education, non-profit, and private organizations. It recommends six steps toward achieving more universal access in Charlotte.

“Without access to the web, thousands of Charlotte residents are being left behind by the people who do have access,” said Bruce Clark, executive director of Digital Charlotte, a project of the Queens Knight School of Communication. “And Charlotte faces the potential of being left behind by other American cities with deeper digital resources.”

The report’s six recommendations include more affordable residential internet services, access to computers, education in technology, aligning public policy to support digital inclusion, ensuring that citizens have a voice in digital inclusion policy, and recognizing that digital inclusion has a positive impact on economic mobility.

“The Charlotte Digital Inclusion Alliance is pulling together its community to make sure as many people as possible can enjoy the benefits of the internet,” said Eric Boyette, secretary and chief information officer for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. “That’s a challenge that we are engaged in throughout the state and we’re glad we can provide our support and expertise to such a great program in Charlotte.”

The report calls on companies, groups, and individuals to help ensure more widespread digital access by residents of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, including participation in public library education programs, donating used electronics to non-profit organizations that refurbish them, volunteering with partner organizations in the alliance, and writing letters and making phone calls to public officials on behalf of digital inclusion.

Charlotte is among numerous cities in North Carolina and throughout the United States that face challenges with digital inclusion and its impact on community-focused workforce and economic development, Clark says. The report also documents several initiatives that are already under way, including programs at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership that train residents in digital skills.

The Charlotte Digital Inclusion Alliance includes the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Urban League of Central Carolinas, Goodwill of the Southern Piedmont, E2D – Eliminate the Digital Divide, Charlotte Hearts Gigabit, and Digital Charlotte, a project of the Queens Knight School of Communication.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and Sprint distribute Wi-Fi devices and services

In other news on Sept. 27, Dr. Clayton Wilcox, superintendent of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, worked with representatives of Sprint and the Sprint Foundation to distribute Wi-Fi hot spot devices to students and their families. More than 5,000 Charlotte high school students will receive the devices and high-speed internet services in the program, called The 1Million Project. The distribution event took place at Garinger High School.
Photo above: a student from Queens University of Charlotte works on digital literacy skills with a Charlotte resident. Grier Heights Community Center, April 2017.