This is a guest post from head of the National Collaborative for Digital Equity (www.digitalequity.us), Dr. Robert McLaughlin. Robert kicks off a blog series wherein we will be looking at digital equity and the various ways we can change the dynamic that affects over 11% of Americans today. You can connect with Robert at the upcoming Digital Equity and Economic Inclusion Summit.
The nation faces a persistent digital divide and its impeding efforts to grow a more inclusive economy, financial literacy, and more equitable access to banking services. Nearly 25 million Americans lack access of any kind to the internet and many more lack home broadband, not because it isn’t available, but because its cost is beyond their means.
Yet, Internet access is increasingly essential for economic and educational opportunity. It’s important to emphasize that without digital access and skills, it’s becoming nearly impossible to find out about and apply for living wage jobs. And it is this fact that moved my colleagues and me to create the National Collaborative for Digital Equity (NCDE).
It’s also becoming harder and harder to prepare for a living wage job when one lacks digital access and skills. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel refers to the “homework gap”, the lack of home access to broadband and computers which she says, “most affects students already likely to fall behind” – those living in poverty.
While 70 percent of American teachers say they assign homework that needs to be done online, and fully 90 percent of students say they have to do Internet-based research at least a few times a month, one-in-three families who earn below $30,000 a year lack Internet access.
Fortunately, recent policy changes have permitted interested banks to receive credit toward meeting their Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) requirement by supporting efforts to remove digital divide barriers to economic inclusion. For example, it’s widely understood that banks can receive credit under CRA by making loans, grants, and equity investments relating to affordable access to broadband in low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities.
What is less widely known is that banks have also begun receiving credit under CRA for addressing other crucial dimensions of the digital divide, such as by financing:
- Refurbishment of their computers for donation to LMI learners in the bank’s CRA assessment areas.
- Training youths (including those for whom English is not their first language) to provide multilingual tech support for educators, neighbors, and families in LMI communities.
- Chat-based support from a national network of school librarians, assisting LMI learners (who are often traumatized by poverty conditions) to become effective in searching for, assessing, and using online resources.
- Formative evaluation to assess the impacts of these CRA investments on access to, and use of, resources along with their impacts on economic & financial inclusion and educational attainment.
NCDE has recently launched an initiative to support, scale and sustain such investments, the “One Percent for Digital Equity Campaign.” This campaign seeks to encourage and assist the nation’s banks to voluntarily commit just one percent of their CRA resources to remove digital divide barriers to economic inclusion. This has the potential to unleash eventually $1 billion per year, in support of economic and educational opportunity.
Sage Sustainable Electronics—who recently published a white paper on CRA in relation to IT Asset Disposition—also joins NCDE, and a growing array of partners, in this campaign to bring everyone into the economy of the digital age.
In coming entries on this blog, we’ll explore in greater depth how Sage’s thorough refurbishment process or their GoodTogether program—bundled with these, and other digital-equity resources—is a very high impact, low-cost strategy for not only CRA compliance, but also for CRA impact.