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Cleveland's Two-Pronged Attack To Make ‘Worse-Connected City’ Label A Relic Of The Past

Cleveland, Ohio is putting the finishing touches on an ambitious plan to build a citywide open access fiber network–and deliver affordable fixed wireless service–at minimal cost to city residents. The double-edged proposal aims to bring both meaningful broadband competition–and lower rates–to the long neglected city of 1.7 million people.

Last month, the city announced it had awarded $20 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to Cleveland-based digital equity non-profit DigitalC. Under the proposal, DigitalC will spend 18 months building a fixed wireless broadband network capable of providing locals with symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) service for $18 a month.

DigitalC’s fixed wireless service, EmpowerCLE+, launched in 2018 and accelerated its deployment in 2020 to meet the needs of frustrated parents and workers during peak COVID.

Speaking at ILSR’s and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) Building for Digital Equity (B4DE) event last week, DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds noted that the EmpowerCLE+ network currently passes 23,500 households in Cleveland, with 2,300 current subscribers. The city’s new agreement with the city should expand the network’s potential reach to 99.9% of homes in Cleveland.

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Joshua Edmonds on B4DE

“We're thankful for the opportunity and we're just really hoping that people use this as motivation to change things within their respective markets,” Edmonds told ILSR in a phone interview.

Next B4DE Event This Tuesday: Building Connected Communities, Sustaining Momentum

Lots happening for Digital Inclusion Week 2023, which kicks off this Monday. One free online event that will be of particular interest for digital equity advocates across the nation is the next National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) Building for Digital Equity (#B4DE) Livestream.

The popular virtual gathering will be held this Tuesday, Oct. 3, from 12 noon to 1:15 pm ET and will focus on the DIW-inspired theme: Building Connected Communities: Sustaining Momentum.

Attendees can still register here.

Building on the success of our previous events, we are excited to present another engaging agenda packed with practical insights and information digital inclusion practitioners can use while working in the trenches to bridge America’s yawning digital divide.

The agenda includes:

Approaches to Digital Equity Work in Cleveland and Detroit - Episode 553 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher speaks with Joshua Edmonds, CEO of DigitalC, a nonprofit technology social enterprise in Cleveland. DigitalC offers affordable wireless service for $18/month, as well as a co-working and collaboration space for the community.

Joshua served as Detroit’s Digital Inclusion Director for four years before heading DigitalC, and he and Christopher discuss Joshua's coalition-building work in Detroit. They compare his experience working under the city of Detroit to his nonprofit digital equity work in Cleveland. Detroit and Cleveland also have two of the highest Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) enrollment rates among prominent metro areas – Joshua offers his approach to ACP, outlining the organized and relentless campaign it took to achieve substantial enrollment in the subsidy program during his time in Detroit. He highlights how important it is to focus on long-term, structural solutions for closing the digital divide at the same time as we find ways to make Internet more affordable in the short term.  

Joshua also speaks about DigitalC’s focus on being locally-rooted, mission-driven and sustainable, and offers his thoughts on the viability of wireless.  

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Bill Callahan on Digital Equity History and NE Ohio Challenges - Building for Digital Equity Podcast

Building for Digital Equity

Bill Callahan, Executive Director of Connect Your Community, joins Christopher Mitchell to talk about some of the history of digital equity and the before-times that led to the formation of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. We also discuss Cleveland and later NE Ohio more specifically after exploring how Internet access has changed in the area since their landmark report, "AT&T’s digital redlining of Cleveland."

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Joseph McDade for the music. The song is On the Verge and is used per his Free-Use terms.

Gina Birch Loves Digital Equity at the Ashbury Center in Cleveland - Building for Digital Equity Podcast Episode 2

Building for Digital Equity logo

As she'll note in the beginning of this interview with Sean Gonsalves, Gina Birch loves her job as Program Coordinator at the Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center in Cleveland, Ohio. She discusses the remarkable transition in Cleveland from a city lagging in digital equity metrics to one toward the top of its game. 

They discuss the Affordable Connectivity Plan, ACP, and some of the challenges associated with the digital divide. Finally, they discuss some of the lessons they have taken from the Net Inclusion conference. 

This show is 14 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Joseph McDade for the music. The song is On the Verge and is used per his Free-Use terms.

Cleveland Seeks Partner to Turn ‘Worst-Connected City’ into Smart Fiber City

Three years ago, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) ranked Cleveland as the worst-connected city in the United States (with more than 100,000 households).

City leaders are now using its American Rescue Plan funds to make that dishonorable distinction a thing of the past with a plan to invest $20 million to get the “Comeback City’s” digital future rockin’ n rollin’.

Although the city (pop. 383,000), home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is currently underserved by AT&T, Charter Spectrum, and T-Mobile, earlier this summer the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) that “seeks one or more partners” to help bridge Cleveland’s digital divide following a two-phased approach that first addresses the city’s immediate needs before tackling its longer-term strategic goals.

More specifically, the RFP details “the Phase I goals: ensuring that individuals who do not engage online can become full Internet users as quickly as possible, relying on digital adoption and affordable access strategies. (While) the Phase II goals (envision) —ubiquitous fiber optic connections and Smart City deployments.”

Or, as Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb told Cleveland.com:

The first phase is on making sure on the short-term basis we connect as many families as we can to high-speed broadband, and the second phase will consist of making sure we lay fiber all across the city so we can be competitive, not just five years from now, but 20, 30 years from now, as a city and as a region.

Technically, the RFP that was issued is to fully implement the first phase of the city’s vision and set the table for the second phase. Work beyond the $20 million the city has set aside would require the issuance of a second RFP.

Empowering Community in Cleveland, with DigitalC - Episode 499 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the show, Christopher is joined by Angela Thi Bennett, Director of Advocacy & Impact at DigitalC, a community-based Cleveland nonprofit which operates a fixed wireless network in the city's unserved and underserved neighborhoods. Before she leaves to become the first Digital Equity Director for National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Angela sits down with Christopher to talk about everything the organization does to advance digital equity goals in the city, driven by an agenda that focuses on healthcare, education, and economic growth. She shares how the nonprofit developed a sustainable model to delivery reliable, fast Internet access for $18/month, how success comes from listening intentionally and regularly to what community members need and want, and what true empowerment means in the face of shifting agendas at the state and national level.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

The Writing Team Takes Over - Episode 471 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

On this week's episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, host Christopher Mitchell is on vacation and the writing team takes over the show to talk about what brought them to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance as well as the communities they’ve spoken to recently. 

Sean Gonsalves, ILSR’s Senior  Reporter, Editor, and Researcher, hosts the podcast and shares updates on a New Hampshire cooperative that is working its way toward connecting its 84,000 members. Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, Senior Researcher shares his most recent work on the Minnesota Broadband: Land of 10,000 Connectivity Solutions Report,  which examines a variety of approaches that communities and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have taken to expand affordable, high-quality Internet access across Minnesota. Senior Researcher and Multimedia Producer Maren Machles explains how DigitalC, a nonprofit in Cleveland, Ohio is trying to address the digital divide in the city’s most under connected communities. 

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Cleveland Nonprofit Doubles Capacity, Connects the Unconnected

 

While Cleveland was ranked one of worst-connected cities in America in 2019 by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), nonprofit, DigitalC is chipping away at this reputation with a fast-tracked initiative aimed at bringing affordable broadband to the people that need it. The nonprofit’s Wireless Internet Service Provider, EmpowerCLE+ launched in 2018 and quickly accelerated in 2020 in response to the pandemic. EmpowerCLE+ provides “fast, reliable Internet speeds for $18/month, and is hoping to double its capacity to 6,000 households in the coming year.

Currently, households are receiving service via a fiber-fed mesh millimeter wave network. The expansion will include additional fiber for Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs) as well as new wireless deployments, including Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) network. The new CBRS expansion will help the network overcome geographical obstacles and bring additional service to homes it was not able to reach before with just millimeter wave technology.  

Connecting the Unconnected

According to DigitalC's website, the nonprofit came from OneCommunity, formerly known as OneCleveland and founded in 2003 to build a backbone fiber network connecting hospitals and other nonprofits throughout the metropolitan area. In 2014, OneCommunity sold its fiber assets to Everstream, a Cleveland-based ISP serving communities throughout the midwest and parts of the east coast with fast, reliable Internet through fiber.

In 2015, DigitalC was established to “make Greater Cleveland's digital future more equitable.” The nonprofit spent the last six years focused on connecting communities of color and immigrant communities that have experienced redlining in the city. 

Cuyahoga County, Ohio Issues RFI In Search of Better Broadband in Cleveland and Beyond

Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s Office of Innovation and Performance just issued a Request for Information (RFI) [pdf] which seeks to gather information from private vendors in the initial stages of a plan to improve connectivity for those on the wrong side of the broadband gap in Cleveland and the surrounding area. Responses are due January 15th.

Grace Chu, Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellow with the Cuyahoga County Office of Innovation & Performance, spoke with us about the origins of the RFI and what the county hopes to get out of the request. The county released a new strategic plan in 2017, and broadband played a prominent role. In the time since, the county has partnered with local organizations (like DigitalC and PCs for People) in distributing devices and hotspots to get families connected. Their efforts have intensified during in 2020 and in the wake of the pandemic, but local officials seek a longer term, more comprehensive solution to the connectivity crisis. It sees projects coming to fruition over the next couple of years.

In the announcement, County Executive Armond Budish emphasized the scope of the digital divide and how the efforts they’ve taken during the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic:

Sadly, Cuyahoga County is one of the worst connected communities in the U.S., with 19 percent of households not having any type of internet service. While we’ve been working to lessen the digital divide through partnerships with the Cleveland Foundation and PCs for People—we provided broadband access to over 3,000 homes through this initiative—this RFI allows us to work toward a more long-term solution that can reach more people and provide easier access for those who need it.