Bank of America is giving 10,000 Chromebooks to low-income children in CMS today in hopes of kicking off a sweeping corporate effort to eliminate the digital divide here.
Why it matters: About 58,000 households in Mecklenburg County either don’t have a computer or use just a smartphone, according to the U.S. Census Department’s most recent American Community Survey.
- The 10,000 Chromebooks will be distributed to students who most need them. Principals and social workers at each school will determine the recipients, says Sonja Gantt, the executive director of the CMS Foundation.
- Bank of America is also pledging 10,000 volunteer hours to support schoolchildren this year.
Zoom out: New Charlotte market president Kieth Cockrell has made the digital divide one of his first big community initiatives since taking over for Charles Bowman last month.
- The first 300 will go to West Charlotte High School this morning.
- “I think we’ve got a real opportunity to be the first city in the United States not just to lean in but really eradicate the digital divide,” Cockrell told me recently. “[So we said,] Let’s not ‘spread peanut butter’ and give 2,000 here and 2,000 to another city or something. We knew the number. … We know at least for CMS we can eliminate this problem.”
What the digital experts say: “It is a big deal,” says Bruce Clark, executive director of Digital Charlotte, whose mission is digital equity. “This is unheard of across the country. I have not heard of another corporate partner donating at this level. Also, it’s a bellwether for what other companies can do.”
Yes, but: Connectivity isn’t only about the devices. The CMS Foundation last year used several formulas to determine that an estimated that 16K CMS students didn’t have internet access.
- Each Chromebook donated comes with a packet of information about low-cost internet access.
The big picture: The donation is in partnership with Novant Health and E2D (Eliminate the Digital Divide), the city and county.
- Devices only last so many years, but those who work on the digital divide hope the Bank of America gift sets the table for more comprehensive community efforts going forward.
- “The fact is that they’re now in the game in a substantial way,” Clark, the Digital Charlotte executive director, says. “We need to think about developing that ecosystem where decommissioned devices and devices like these continue to stay in our community.”