Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis announce the formation of a Digital Equity Collaborative, an ambitious partnership to jointly leverage pandemic relief funds with the goal of eliminating the digital divide in Minnesota’s largest city.
Through this collaborative, Minneapolis will provide up to $2 million in funding to expand Hennepin County’s Digital Navigation service provided through the Hennepin County Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion (OBDI). The City and County believe that combining funds will increase efficiency and maximize the digital equity impact.
Reducing Digital Disparities
“Technology can be a great force to improve residents’ lives,” said May Xiong, Assistant County Administrator for Disparity Reduction. “Hennepin County is committed to eliminating the digital divide, and this work is rooted in our broader disparity reduction efforts to ensure all of our residents thrive. In our increasingly digital world, providing access to technology and training is essential to create a more equitable future.”
“Everyone should have the tools, skills and opportunity to take part in our digital society,” said Paul Cameron, Chief Information Officer at the City of Minneapolis. “The City is committed to bridging the digital divide and technology skills gap by providing opportunities for residents to gain digital literacy skills, access to technological tools and ensuring that all Minneapolis residents have equal access to the internet. Using technology to its full advantage is a necessary part of success and all our residents deserve that opportunity.”
Many services can be delivered digitally, from education to health care, but this requires computers, connectivity, and comfort with technology. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated what many in local government, schools, and libraries already knew – the high costs of broadband and devices are a struggle for people with lower incomes. This collaborative will direct resources and support to the people most impacted by digital barriers.
Supporting Students and Families
For more than a year, the County, City, and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) have been working together on strategies to expand access. The collaborative formalizes this partnership to eliminate digital barriers for people living in Minneapolis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the digital divide within the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) community,” said Justin Hennes, Senior Officer for Information Technology at MPS. “It’s critical that our students have access to and are proficient with technology in order for them to be college- and career-ready. When technology is accessible to everyone, it can open doors to a variety of opportunities for both our students and members of our community as they navigate different aspects of their life.”
A significant portion of Hennepin County residents who lack adequate internet access or are otherwise impacted by the digital divide live in Minneapolis. According to estimates, between 31,000-50,000 Minneapolis households do not have access to high quality internet services that can reliably be used for telehealth, remote work, distance learning, or other modern digital services. Many of these residents have lower incomes, are cost burdened by expenses, and live in areas of the City that are underserved by broadband providers.
Increasing Access and Building Skills
Collaborative priorities include supporting the families of students enrolled in MPS, encouraging qualifying households to take advantage of the federal Affordable Connectivity Program to bring down internet costs, supporting homeless and highly mobile residents, and helping digital novices build their technology life skills and online safety knowledge.
“Access to technology is life changing,” according to a resident who worked with OBDI’s Digital Navigators to get connected to home internet service.
Services will be provided by Hennepin County staff and contracted community partners, and leverage county and city-owned facilities such as libraries and service centers within Minneapolis.