How Chicago is Conquering the Digital Divide, while Oakland and Most Everywhere Else, Flounders

I didn’t believe it when folks reached out about Chicago’s plan to provide FREE, no strings, internet to low income families, Chicago Connected.  The COVID era is full of comforting words that end up empty promises.  We have the “Keep America Connected” pledge by all the leading broadband providers, which has no teeth and guarantees that nobody is actually connected.  We have “Oakland Undivided,” which says it will close the divide, but is based on “free or low cost” internet services by private providers.  Services that families need to navigate and eventually need to pay for.  So it actually promises to divide those who can pay from those who cant.

(Join us Tomorrow at 9 am pacific, 12 eastern for Access Denied to hear how Chicago actually did it)

And let’s be clear, “low cost” will likely have a shifting definition. It may be $10, $20, $30 or who knows how much per month. Meanwhile many families cannot pay for food.  “Low cost” internet guarantees that some families will not be connected, and that those most vulnerable children are locked outside the schoolhouse door.  That can NEVER be the foundation of an digital access policy.

So I had to look at the Chicago Connected program pretty closely, and I didn’t find any asterisks.  I didn’t see any footnotes redefining “free.”  What I saw was a seeming well-constructed program, built on a long-term vision of free broadband for the whole community, and one that listened closely to families in its creation. 

This is the type of real partnership and vision that Oakland needs.  I needed to talk to the key players In this successful venture, and learn what we can to push Oakland and other localities to answer the question of the digital access, in a way that works for all families.  To get to the other shore, where everyone who needs it can get online, rather than jumping from lily pad to lily pad, or on the back of an alligators back, hoping for mercy on some old bill.  With the burden being placed on families to piece together school access from a host of private providers, each incented for profit not service.  The Oakland model.

I had to talk to folks in Chicago, and so we are tomorrow morning at 9 pacific 12 eastern on my second version of Access Denied; The Story of the 15 Million Unconnected Students and How We Fix That.  We will have families, community organizations, and hopefully some philanthropy and district folks, who can share the path and lessons learned.  Please join us in the show, in pushing the FCC to guarantee free broadband by signing and sharing our petition, and by staying connected and pushing with us locally and nationally for free no strings attached internet for every family that needs it. 

We need you, but more Importantly 15 million underserved students are counting on you, they can’t do it alone.  So please join us and let’s obliterate the digital divide and emerge from COVID with more durable and equitable broadband infrastructure, that truly leaves no child behind.

If you want to see last week’s show talking with a Teacher of the Year from Philly, Zach Wright, check it out here

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