Originally established as the Emergency Response Fund - Digital Equity in July 2020, the Digital Equity Fund was created to 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. The study found 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.
Though this fund was originally established to respond to emergency needs exacerbated by the pandemic, the advancement of digital equity remains an ongoing priority. Unbridged, the digital divide will continue inhibiting students from learning, workers from accessing and retaining gainful employment, small business owners from engaging in e-commerce, individuals and businesses from accessing resources, and vulnerable populations from safely engaging with others. Acknowledging the long-term nature of this challenge, the Digital Equity Fund, now serves as an ongoing investment vehicle to expand the research regarding online connectivity challenges and implement research-based solutions.