Some say Chicago is the center of the political universe ever since its adopted native son moved into the White House. But it’s also the place where urban broadband for the underserved is coming alive. The Windy City took another step closer to universal broadband access for its citizens when it announced recently that 1,600 low-income households would have access to digital literacy programs, refurbished computers, and – yes – more access.
Of course, that’s what really counts in a city as economically torn and crime-ravaged as Chicago. In collaboration with One Economy, AT&T, and the residential community of Mercy Housing Lakefront, the city can now brag that 1,600 of its residents are benefiting from high-speed access through its We Are Now Connected Campaign.
The campaign is funded through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Opportunity Technology Program. BTOP was spawned by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. If you remember, or if you could sift through all the partisan noise, ARRA provided $7.2 billion in funding for expanded access to broadband services in the United States.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration administers $4.7 billion of this funding through grants to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure, encourage broadband adoption via digital literacy, expand public computer centers, and maintain a geographic map of broadband capacity and availability.
“We Are Now Connected is not just about Internet access, but about helping residents learn how to use broadband to find a job, access health care information, manage finances, and improve their quality of life,” said Felix Matlock, Vice President of Mercy Housing Lakefront at the Englewood Apartments. “This initiative will not only help the individual residents, but it will help stimulate and strengthen the Englewood community and the entire city.”
The initiative is being anchored by One Economy, a non-profit specializing in the deployment of broadband technology to low-income residents. One Economy also provides tools for enhancing online literacy while training the instructors necessary for providing digital education.
According to One Economy, the private sector has provided matching support for the We Are Now Connected campaign, totaling some $23 million. AT&T has provided a significant portion of that.
“AT&T is delighted to partner with One Economy and Mercy Housing Lakefront to open a new world of opportunity to families and individuals across Chicago,” said Kim McCullough, Director of External Affairs at AT&T. “We are committed to working together to provide access to the technology and the digital literacy training individuals need to succeed.