Funding makes ASU the home of the largest university-led digital equity initiative in the nation
Like food, clothing and housing, the internet has become a basic need. Today, access is a determinant for quality of life as it connects people to vital health care, learning experiences and work opportunities.
Yet throughout Arizona, reliable access to high-speed broadband remains spotty. In Maricopa County, some neighborhoods are reporting that up to 70% of residents still lack adequate internet performance needed for remote work, downloading homework, or streaming.
Arizona State University is leading an effort to close this gap. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously providing ASU and its collaborators with $34.6 million through 2026 to advance broadband, community support, equipment and training in Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix metro area.
The funding makes ASU the home of the nation’s largest university-led digital equity initiative. ASU Enterprise Technology, Sun Corridor Network and 501(c)(3) Digital Equity Institute will lead the effort with hundreds of faculty, students and staff to build digital skills and distribute internet-connected devices to those in need.
“The idea of delivering access at scale is embedded in ASU’s charter,” said Chris Howard, executive vice president and chief operating officer of public company ASU, which aims to design, build and oversee a new model for a national university. “Our digital equity agreement with Maricopa County means that as a public company, our commitment extends far beyond ASU’s physical locations.”
Mary Haddad, an ASU undergraduate student, shared at an ASU town hall her vision for the future where the Internet is readily available to everyone: “In an ideal future, we provide training, online tools and resources, ensuring we are always available if they need help and support.
Partnership for Social Impact
It took agile collaboration between government, education, community and industry to come up with funding. When the White House administration announced the US rescue plana $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, broadband was high on the national solutions agenda.
Seeing the opportunity and the need, a group of regional partners sprang into action.
A working group on broadband meeting under the aegis of The connectivethe Greater Phoenix Smart Regions Consortium and an initiative of the Partnership for economic innovation. The group was comprised of government officials, Maricopa County, and a technical advisory team led by ASU and the Digital Equity Institute.
“Through the Broadband Task Force, we have the opportunity to build a region where every person is a fully engaged and active participant in shaping the future of the community in which they live,” said Chris Camacho, President and CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Councilmember of the working group and member of the board of directors of the Partnership for Economic Innovation.
The nearly $35 million in funding for ASU comes from the American Rescue Plan program, awarded by Maricopa County.
“It is only through collaborative partnership and proactive leadership that we will begin to break down these structural barriers on a regional scale to ensure the digital economy reaches every home in Greater Phoenix,” said Bill Gates, Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Going forward, collaboration will remain central. ASU Enterprise Technology, Sun Corridor Network, and the Digital Equity Institute will partner to connect anchor community institutions, such as schools, health clinics, and other neighborhood assets, and provide educational programs that support pathways communities from digital inequality to full participation.
Work is already underway to build a better-connected community
Recent broadband installation drivers with Isaac’s School District of Phoenix, run by ASU Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and Enterprise Technology, have already revealed the positive impacts of improving access to K-12. Today, the implications of this latest funding allocation touch all facets of learning, working and thriving.
“The Digital Equity Institute is committed to taking a holistic approach to level the playing field,” said Erin Carr-Jordan, Managing Director of the Digital Equity Institute. “Through meaningful collaboration, we can amplify the voices of disadvantaged communities and provide people with access to the knowledge, skills and support needed to fully participate in all aspects of society, democracy and the economy. .”
ASU is already analyzing the data and preparing the geographical maps as a basis for the next broadband installations.
“We need to know where the gaps in service are, and this granular level of data will help us scale to serve more of our communities,” said Lev Gonick, chief information officer at ASU. “We want to ensure that the resources allocated to solving this pervasive systemic challenge are directed where they are most needed.”
Gates of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will kick off the event by sharing the current and future state of digital equity. Government officials, broadband experts, digital literacy champions and other key groups will detail what the community needs to know – and what comes next.
Written by Samantha Becker. For media inquiries, please contact Annie Davis, [email protected]
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