Central Ohio Digital Divide Fund will support work to identify and address broadband connectivity issues that hinder students, and others, from working online. The fund, seeded with $500,000 approved by The Columbus Foundation's Governing Committee, was created as a branch of the Emergency Response Fund, launched in March 2020 to address needs related to COVID-19.
The Foundation made a strategic first investment, having AECOM conduct an analysis of the broadband infrastructure throughout Columbus to identify potential gaps and develop a shared understanding of barriers to accessing the internet.
Support from the Central Ohio Digital Divide Fund will provide opportunities to expand the research regarding online connectivity challenges, and implement ideas included in the broadband access report commissioned by the Foundation in July 2020.
The initial AECOM 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.
Read the full July 1 report from AECOM here.