Durham’s Movement to Close the Digital Divide

July 6, 2020

by Lindsey Paydon

In this day in age, especially during a pandemic, not having a computer or a way to connect to the internet is a significant barrier that stands in the way of an individual’s ability to provide for themselves and their families. Here in Durham 2,378 kids do not have access to a computer at home. 14% of Durham families are without internet access of any kind. According to NC Broadband Infrastructure Office approximately 10,000 households in Durham do not have any device in their home that can connect to the internet, including cell phones.

This problem is not new, but with the closure of public institutions like schools and libraries, the digital divide is growing and presenting more inequities than ever before. Fortunately, many Durham leaders are now taking action and working together to close the gap.

The digital divide prevents not only individuals from realizing their full potential, but the entire Durham community from advancing and reaching its full economic potential. Industries need technologically literate employees and increasingly rely on a strong local talent infrastructure to fill their hiring needs. Our teachers need to be able to connect to their students to provide quality education and adults young and old need access to the internet to succeed in remote careers or explore and train for new careers as the job industry continues to change.

There are many individuals and organizations in Durham who have been working to close the gap for years, but the pandemic has energized the movement and led to a renewed call to action from Durham’s leaders.

Here are some of the biggest projects, organizations, and companies working to close the digital divide in Durham:

  • Triangle Ecycling refurbishes and recycles old computers as part of a free teaching program preparing high school students for jobs in information technology. Many repurposed computers are given to local charities and 10% of proceeds go to Bull City Schools. Although the pandemic has presented some challenges for their workers, they have still been able to continue refurbishing and donating computers across the Durham community. Just this March, they were able to donate over 100 laptops to Families Moving Forward, Durham Children’s Initiative, Life Skills, and Durham Literacy Center. Founder and CEO Larry Herst said, “Despite it all, we are very grateful to be able to play a role in supporting those most in need in our community and to be able to have our business continue in operation unlike so many in our Durham small business cohort. I know we all look forward to getting past this period and back to normal times.”
  • Durham Public Schools One-to-One Initiative will provide over 20,000 Chromebooks to their students, ensuring that every student will have a device at the start of the next school year.
  • Digital Durham: Digital Durham is a coalition of educators, nonprofits, government, and business promoting digital inclusion by advocating for reliable, affordable internet access and computing devices, along with digital literacy training. In April 2020, the group released a statement to the Durham County of Commissioners laying out a short- and long-term plan to address the digital divide. You can read the full statement here.
  • Bull City Schools has also committed to accelerating digital equity, ensuring every DPS student experiences high-quality digital and remote instruction. The project is led by Geoff Durham (CEO of Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce), Zack Hawkins (NC State Legislator and UNC development officer), and Laura Helms Reece (CEO of Rho).

You can help by donating to one of the nonprofit organizations listed above or purchasing a refurbished computer from Triangle Ecycling. Additionally, you can talk to your local representatives about the importance of equitable internet access, not just as a response to the pandemic, but as a long-term investment in our communities.

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