The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools recently gave every CMS student and teacher a gift for a lifetime: through the One Access partnership, CMS students’ ID numbers serve as their Library account number. Over 150,000 children can unlock a wealth of resources at 20 Library locations and online anytime, anywhere there is Internet access. But it’s not enough.
It’s not enough that many students who returned to 168 schools in August have access to digital resources only in school and at the Library. Our children should be able to be curious anytime they want. Some cities are already enjoying benefits of high-speed Internet in a highly-connected landscape. But wifi deserts persist in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In parts of our city, as many as 40 percent of households are not connected.
A Digital Inclusion Steering Team is building energy toward connecting all of Charlotte-Mecklenburg to the worldwide classroom. Quickly, we are transitioning from expensive and slow connectivity to cheap and fast broadband. Whether we do so in a way that ensures no child or family is left behind is up to us as a community. We do not want to remain a community divided into digital haves and have-nots.
How will we ensure all students and families have equitable access to learning resources anytime, anywhere? We need a comprehensive plan and a coalition of the willing to make it happen.
The Digital Inclusion Steering Team has engaged over 95 partners in envisioning a connected Charlotte. We brainstorm about affordable, home Internet connections providing high-speed access for under $10/ month, so no one is left behind. We dream of community-based public networks providing high-speed access, accessible in libraries, museums, parks, rec centers, community centers and schools. We explore wifi hot-spot lending programs that make digital resources available to low-income families. We are eager for Charlotte to be selected in a future round of ConnectHome funding to bridge the digital divide for families who live in public housing. We are creating a playbook that individuals, families, non-profits and others can draw from to create a plan that will work for them and their community.
These are not new ideas or strategies; many cities are implementing them. We invite you to join the cause as we advocate, collaborate and co-create options for digital inclusion for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Log on to digitalcharlotte.org and join the conversation.
Truesdale serves as Chief Technology, Personalization and Engagement Officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Blair serves as Director of Technology and Operations for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.