Could you live without high-speed internet? Residents in Detroit’s North End shouldn’t have to either

During the pandemic, the world was thrust into facing the reality of the racial inequity and injustice that had long existed but was hidden away in some seldom talked about corner. Then one manifestation of that — the inequities in access to technology commonly referred to as the “digital divide” — took on new urgency as the pandemic upended the normalcy and predictability of our way of life. 

Those who were unable to make the sharp and immediate pivot were left uninformed and forced to rely on unreliable, outdated or misinformed news sources. Seniors, schoolchildren and small businesses were left scrambling without a plan. And for Detroit, one of the least-connected major cities in the U.S., the price would be high.

The future of informed and engaged communities is inextricably linked to technology. The fragility and unpredictability of the past two years have made one thing clear: Broadband internet is no longer a luxury; it is essential to full participation in modern life. 

The Knight Foundation’s work in Detroit concentrates on the North End, a historically marginalized, predominantly African American community where 40% of the residents are without high-speed internet; 63% of low-income homes have no in-home broadband; and 70% of school-age children have no internet access at home. 

Our work in Detroit aims to accelerate and scale up the work already being done in the community. We acknowledge the groundwork of grassroots and community leaders who have been preparing the way for and making the distinction between racial equity and racial justice.  

Understanding this critical situation, we’re announcing a $750,000 grant to the North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC). Under the Rev. Joan Ross’ leadership, NEWCC offers an accessible and affordable point-to-point, wireless internet service to nearly 215 households in the North End, free of charge. Knight’s investment will enable NEWCC to take the Equitable Internet Initiative to scale.

Our commitment aims to:

  • increase internet access to over 1,000 households in the North End
  • increase internet adoption through digital literacy programming 
  • train and develop residents as digital stewards 
  • strengthen neighborhoods through community organizing, participation, collaboration and resiliency 
  • increase open access for everyone with the creation of solar-powered Wi-Fi charging stations

Knight’s vision is for the North End to become an equitable, thriving and connected residential and commercial corridor. Our process does not involve creation or prescription, but  collaboration and partnership of surrounding shared principles and ideals and, in this instance, digital equity in the form of high-speed internet access. Without digital equity, a promising future for marginalized communities such as the North End is at risk.   

Nate Wallace is Knight Foundation’s Detroit program director, and the Rev. Joan Ross is the operating director of North End Woodward Community Coalition.

Image (top) by Fauxels on Pexels.