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The Columbus Foundation Announces $500,000 to Seed a Fund Addressing Digital Divide

Central Ohio Digital Divide Fund will further the work started to identify and respond to gaps and challenges in broadband access

Columbus, OH (July 28, 2020)— As local school districts and their students and families prepare for more online education in the fall, The Columbus Foundation is expanding its commitment to actively address broadband connectivity issues that hinder students, and others, from working online.

The Foundation’s Governing Committee approved the establishment of the Central Ohio Digital Divide Fund. The fund, seeded with $500,000, was created as a branch of the Emergency Response Fund, launched in March to address needs related to COVID-19. Support from the Central Ohio Digital Divide Fund will provide opportunities to expand the research regarding online connectivity challenges, and implement ideas included in a broadband access report commissioned by the Foundation and released earlier this month.

This fund also addresses the interests of individual and corporate funders who now will have a way to co-invest in meaningful opportunities to provide ways for more students to be reached for online education. Announcements as to co-funding partners are expected in the next few days.

When it became apparent to The Columbus Foundation in late April that schools were having a hard time reaching students, especially in areas of high poverty concentration, it moved to engage international civil infrastructure research organization AECOM to analyze the state of broadband infrastructure in Columbus, and to share best practices from other communities. The resulting report also outlined short, mid- and long-term strategies our community could pursue to fill this gap. The Foundation has now engaged AECOM to further broaden its scope to all of Franklin County, as its findings about Columbus have proven useful to public and private officials throughout our community.

We have taken a positive first step in answering some important questions through the initial report. Now, as we move forward as a community, we need to invest in ideas that will help address mid- and long-term solutions for the challenges that are holding some students and families back.

Douglas F. Kridler, President and CEO of The Columbus Foundation

The initial report found the access gap was not driven by poor broadband infrastructure, as there is at least one high-speed internet provider and adequate broadband infrastructure for service in even the lowest income areas of Columbus.

The study found instead that gaps in access were largely due to a variety of barriers across different demographics, including economic challenges, technological literacy, and computers or other technological hardware.

Recommendations for closing the broadband gap range from short-term solutions, like subsidies and hot spots, to medium-term solutions, such as the expansion of Wi-Fi access points to include parks, community centers, and pedestrian areas. Long-term, public-private partnerships and new technologies will be necessary components to ensure high-speed internet access to all community members. Columbus City Schools and MORPC have developed plans to address the short-term, urgent need to make sure all students are equipped for remote learning this fall, and have sought CARES Act resources from the City of Columbus to provide new computers, refurbished devices, and affordable internet plans.

One of the first efforts is a pilot program that recently launched with Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT), an organization dedicated to increasing well-being for community members living on the Near East Side. Led by Autumn Glover, President of PACT, this effort will look at leveraging internet hubs on the Near East Side to transmit wireless internet across the neighborhood, ensuring connectivity for more in the area.

“While broadband infrastructure is widely available in Columbus and Franklin County, more than half of Near East Side community residents, including about 75 percent of the children, live in poverty, making this access financially unattainable,” said Glover. “PACT is partnering with The Columbus Foundation to get Near East Side residents online so they have access to jobs, healthcare, education, and social benefit. In 2020, the digital divide is an issue of racial equity that PACT hopes to close by ensuring that by 2025 every household has access to broadband, devices, and increased digital literacy to utilize internet platforms and other tools that enhance their quality of life.”

The Foundation has also participated in a diverse group of stakeholders, convened by Columbus Metropolitan Library’s President and CEO Pat Losinski, who continue to collaborate on other paths forward for reaching students with online education, as well as adults with online access for other needs, now and in the future.

Read the full July 1 report from AECOM here.

About The Columbus Foundation

The Columbus Foundation serves nearly 3,000 individuals, families, and businesses that have created unique funds and planned gifts to make a difference in the lives of others through the most effective philanthropy possible. The Columbus Foundation is Your Trusted Philanthropic Advisor® and one of the top 10 largest community foundations in the United States. 

July 28, 2020