Building smart and connected communities must include efforts aimed at defeating the digital divide. In Avondale, a traditionally under-served neighborhood in Cincinnati, OH, a woman-owned business has started to ‘light up’ buildings to provide open and free WiFi to residents, students, and businesses across the neighborhood as a part of a dynamic public-private-partnership.
Powernet leadership spoke about this effort with their program partners at the Second Annual Smart Cincy Summit this spring. In collaboration with the Avondale Community Development Corporation (ACDC) and The Community Builders (TCB,) Powernet launched the program last year and is already achieving impactful results. Students have access to internet to study and do their homework. Job seekers can identify and pursue new opportunities. Businesses can highlight their offerings to attract new customers. And residents and visitors enjoy equitable access throughout the Avondale core.
Thinking Beyond WiFi, Powernet is hoping to reinvigorate local businesses by providing targeted analytics on top of WiFi services. After all, rebuilding and developing communities is about more than connecting people to the internet and information. It’s about creating new opportunities for residents to realize social mobility, and for businesses to grow.
But let’s focus on the access for the students, or lack thereof, in this case. In Cincinnati Public Schools at least 41% of students admit to experiencing digital divide/digital access limitations including lacking a network, devices, and/or digital literacy training. This is especially important as education and workforce development becomes more and more digitized.
The internet creates new opportunities, yes. But sometimes, that means new opportunities only for those who can afford it. This effort headed up by Powernet, and others like it, are choosing to face this crisis head on. And that is important. We must ensure we give residents, regardless of socioeconomic or physical barriers, equal access to new opportunities created through the digital transformation. If we start there, we are heading in the right direction to build smart and connected communities.
To get involved or learn more about Smart City efforts in Cincinnati, OH, or to connect to someone from Powernet, get in touch.