How To Remove Barriers To Tech Opportunity: Start With Internet Access
By: Jorge Gonzalez, Digital Access Director, The Miami Foundation + powered by Tech Equity Miami
Meet Mairet. She is a proud Miamian and a mother who knows the value of having internet service at home. Unfortunately, Mairet’s journey to at-home internet access has proved troublesome. Her major barrier is a physical one. A large tree stands in the way of her family getting online. Not only must Mairet locate and hire a licensed arborist, but she must coordinate with the local internet service provider (ISP) to ensure that any tree trimming is conducted to the ISP specifications.
Mairet’s experience is all too common. In Miami-Dade, one in five residents do not have broadband internet at home. What’s more, in historically underserved communities, that number climbs to one in two residents.
Miami Connected is one solution to bridge the digital access gap in our community. This cross-sector partnership, co-led by The Miami Foundation and Achieve Miami, is designed to expand internet connectivity, digital literacy and entry points into tech career pathways to 100,000 Miamians over a three year period.
Since the 2021 launch of Miami Connected, the digital access landscape has changed substantially, both locally and nationally. As we delve deeper into our work, new obstacles and opportunities continually arise. Yet, the primary barriers to increasing digital access remain: financial, practical and infrastructural.
Miami Needs To Provide Personalized Support To Guarantee Underserved Homes Receive Internet Services
Remember Mairet? Well, I’m happy to share that she was able to get in-home internet service thanks to the support of the Miami Connected digital navigation program. Franck, one of our digital navigators, was able to provide Mairet with 1:1 support and assist her through navigating the many practical steps in the process to get online.
We have learned that the less obvious, non-financial barriers are equally powerful in keeping many Miamiams disconnected from the internet at home. Often, time investment and complex processes required to access internet service and financial subsidy programs pose significant hardship. To date, Miami Connected has provided over 3,000 hours of digital navigation support to over 2,500 families who need help with securing at-home internet service, accessing digital literacy programming and obtaining free or low cost devices.
At-home Internet Is A Discretionary Expense (But It Shouldn’t Be)
Miami remains a ground zero community for economic disparity. Nearly 15 percent of Miami residents live in poverty, the ninth-highest rate among large metros. The region has the highest elder poverty rate among large metros and a youth poverty rate that is significantly higher than the overall poverty rate. Many families, already facing increasing housing costs, must make the difficult choice between basic necessities and the cost of internet utilities services. Of the 28.2 million households in the U.S. that do not have broadband internet, two-thirds of households cite the high cost of internet service as the reason why.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), passed in early 2022, represents a $14 billion investment to expand internet access by lowering monthly costs for eligible families. We believe this level of federal funding support is a step in the right direction. The federal subsidy is in lockstep with Miami Connected’s existing ISP sponsorship program, inspired by similar initiatives in Chicago and Philadelphia, which underwrites the cost of internet service for qualifying families for 24 months.
We Need Community-designed Infrastructure To Accelerate Digital Access
In close partnership with Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Miami-Dade County, we want to leverage federal funding and hyper-local expertise through a data-driven, community-informed broadband strategy (like this one!)
We know from experience that connectivity-focused federal programs have struggled to spend allocated funds due to the lack of an intentional infrastructure of community partnerships. By centering the grassroots organizations that have a track record of neighborhood-level engagement and established deep trust, we can successfully deploy resources to those who need them the most with accountability and outcome-driven impact.
As one of the inaugural Tech Equity Miami designated projects, Miami Connected’s core mission recognizes that we live in an era where digital connectivity is the currency of access to tech opportunities. We remain committed to removing the threshold barriers to digital access for low- to moderate-income individuals and are doing so organically by meeting people where they are with much-needed funding, practical 1:1 support, and a community-wide strategy to implement public and private sector resources in a manner that ensures the #MiamiTech opportunity is available to everyone.
We invite you to join the effort by learning more and using your voice to amplify our work.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of blogs in partnership with Tech Equity Miami that will explore tech equity in Miami over the next few weeks. To learn more, visit: www.techequitymiami.org.