Nov 21, 2022 - News

New pilot program aims to shrink the digital divide

Illustration of a red carpet leading to a laptop.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tech experts will be available to residents of Acres Homes, Kashmere Gardens, Magnolia Park-Manchester and Sunnyside communities as part of an effort to shrink the digital divide.

Driving the news: City of Houston, Comcast and nonprofit SERJobs launched a $150,000 digital navigators pilot program in which two experts will provide free one-on-one tech support.

  • The program launched on Friday and will last for 18 months.

Why it matters: The four selected neighborhoods are some of the most under-resourced in the Houston area.

  • Having access to and knowledge of the internet is crucial in navigating available resources and is linked to reducing digital and socioeconomic inequities, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group study supported by Comcast.

By the numbers: Millions of Americans — disproportionately low-income, Black, Hispanic and rural populations — still lack access to high-speed broadband or a digital device at home, according to the Pew Research Center.

  • Yes, but: BCG study found that after having access to hands-on help from a digital navigator, more than 65% of people in the study had internet access or a connected device at home.
  • 1 in 3 reported obtaining new employment with a higher income and 40% received support with basic needs like food and housing.

Details: The program will have the ability to work with hundreds of residents, according to Comcast.

  • The program will include a "back to basics" technology-based curriculum that will teach people how to use a computer, search for jobs, send emails and operate softwares like Microsoft Word.
  • The participants can also learn about the federal government's Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides eligible low-income households with a credit of up to $30 per month toward their internet or mobile provider.

How it works: Residents can call 713-773-6000 or email [email protected] to schedule a time to meet with a tech expert.

Context: The digital navigator pilot program is one of several Comcast programs dedicated to decreasing the digital divide. The internet service provider has a $1 billion initiative to advance digital equity nationwide, including providing broadband service to 1 million Texans.

Flashback: Houston saw the extent of the city's digital divide during the pandemic when school districts scrambled to get students technology and internet so they could continue their education remotely.

What's next: The City of Houston's Complete Communities will be launching a website for the program soon.

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