CLEVELAND — Pastor Edward McGhee, leader of the True Vine Community Baptist Church in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood, knows first hand what it's like to be a victim of Cleveland's digital divide.
McGhee told News 5 when his church moved to it's location of East 105 Street, he was stunned to learn his church had no options for cable or fiber optic internet service in the neighborhood.
“It’s a continuation of an historic problem that’s confronted impoverished communities," McGhee said. “When we contacted the internet company the first thing they asked us was our zip code, and the rest was history, they said it’s not in your community, it’s not in your community. Unfortunately this digital divide is having a negative impact on our children, because our children don’t have the
McGhee said he had to installed satellite internet service just so his church classrooms would be connected to help young students while they were away from school buildings during the pandemic.
Ward 9 Cleveland Councilman Kevin Conwell confirmed the digital divide has hit the Glenville neighborhood extremely hard, but is hoping the hiring of a new Cleveland Digital Equity and Inclusion Manager will play a key role in executing City’s efforts to expand broadband access.
“Many of our children could not use tablets from CMSD, they could not have access because they did not have internet, Conwell said. “So it hurt them with their schooling at Glenville High School, at Mary McLeod Bethune school and at Michael R. White school, because they couldn’t get on the internet.
“With this new digital manager, there will be a strategic plan booklet, you just don’t say here’s $20 million dollars in ARPA funds let me put this up, so they have to sit down and figure this out. He or she will have to hire a project manager also to execute their plan.”
Cleveland's new Digital Equity and Inclusion Manager role is being underwritten by the Rocket Community Fund and Cleveland Foundation through a joint, $300,000, two-year investment towards salary, benefits and related expenditures for the position. The two organizations previously partnered alongside Cleveland Neighborhood Progress in 2021 to start a door-to-door canvassing program to collect data on where the city digital divide is most prevalent.
Laura Grannemann, Vice President of the Rocket Community told News 5 the help in funding Cleveland's new Digital Equity and Inclusion Manager will help focus the city effort in finally bridging the digital gap.
“There has always been a digital divide challenge, but we never saw it greater than during the pandemic," Grannemann said, “Unfortunately both Cleveland and the City of Detroit are two of the most digitally disconnected cities in the United States.”
Grannemann went into detail about the opportunity for the position.
"This position is going to be a centralized position that has the opportunity to cross between community connection and policy, and so we’re so grateful for the support of the Cleveland Foundation and Mayor Bibb’s Administration," she said. "It fits incredibly well with the work we’re already doing in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, which is a door to door outreach survey that asks residents direct questions about their digital connectivity.”
Grannemann told News 5 she believes the survey results could be ready by the end of 2022 and will be critical in helping the new Digital Equity and Inclusion Manager.
Meanwhile, Pastor McGhee remains optimistic this new city position will have a significant and positive impact in his community.
“I'm hopeful, very hopeful, I live on hope, I thrive on hope," McGhee said. “The system is the system as it is, and as much as I dislike the system, I have to live within it. But at the same time, I am hopeful that in due season all of us will be able to have internet access.”