Fort Worth, Texas – In an ambitious initiative aimed at ameliorating the pervasive issue of digital inequity, United Way of Tarrant County has recently secured a $350,000 grant to heighten awareness concerning the Affordable Connectivity Program in designated ZIP code regions. Established by the Federal Communications Commission, the program offers financially-strapped households a monthly subsidy of up to $30 for internet services, in addition to a one-time discount of as much as $100 for the acquisition of computing devices like laptops, desktops, or tablets.
Chris Alvarado, the Vice President of Community Investment for United Way, underscored the exclusivity of this funding allocation, stating that the organization is the sole beneficiary within Tarrant County slated to receive monies for this endeavor during the current fiscal year.
“This is one opportunity for us to utilize resources to address one of the most significant problems — the digital divide,” Alvarado said.
In 2022, roughly 3 million households in Texas were without fast internet connection
The scope of this issue is not to be underestimated; data from the Texas Broadband Development Office revealed that as of the previous year, over 7 million Texans, encompassing roughly 3 million households, were without a broadband connection. With this stark reality serving as a backdrop, United Way of Tarrant County aims to commence its expansive outreach imminently, targeting initiation within the ensuing month, according to Alvarado.
As part of its multi-pronged approach to mass communication, the nonprofit organization plans to host community-focused events and will additionally launch a digital marketing campaign via a dedicated website. In a bid to enhance outreach efficacy, direct mailers will be disseminated to an estimated 125,000 households to ensure maximal program awareness.
To bolster these comprehensive efforts, United Way of Tarrant County has enlisted Morgan Johnson in the capacity of Outreach Coordinator for the program. Over a projected timeline extending to the next 24 months, the objective is to enroll at least 1,750 households into the Affordable Connectivity Program, specifically targeting residents of the following ZIP codes: 76010, 76103, 76104, 76105, 76110, 76112, 76115, 76119, and 76164.
Kenny Mosley, executive director of Renaissance Heights Foundation, said he was invited to participate in a stakeholder meeting Aug. 15 with U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to further expand the program.
In an exploratory phase aimed at fortifying the Renaissance Heights community, Mosley’s foundation is in preliminary discussions with United Way of Tarrant County about a prospective collaboration. While a formalized partnership has not yet materialized, the two organizations are actively engaging in dialogues centered around the imperative of delivering affordable broadband connections to underserved households, according to Mosley.
United Way of Tarrant County’s intensifying focus on internet accessibility was largely catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic’s palpable impact on families. The organization observed that the pandemic exacerbated the inequalities that stem from the lack of digital connectivity, thereby elevating it as a priority within their operational ambit.
Concurrently, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, which had been disseminating essential resource updates via digital platforms, found itself facing limitations in outreach efficacy. Chris Alvarado explained that, in the absence of internet access among certain demographic segments, the food bank was compelled to resort to less-efficient, traditional communication methodologies, such as word-of-mouth dissemination, to bridge the informational gap.
In a parallel development, legislative initiatives aiming to ameliorate internet accessibility began gaining momentum in Congress around the same temporal juncture. As these multifaceted dimensions coalesce, the potential for strategic alliances among community organizations, including Mosley’s foundation and United Way of Tarrant County, signals an increasingly proactive and coordinated approach toward mitigating digital inequality.
“As so much of our lives moved online, it became crystal clear that broadband has become indispensable for work, school, health care and so much more,” Veasey and Rosenworcel wrote in an Aug. 23 column for The Dallas Morning News. “Yet too many people struggle to get connected because they struggle to pay for this essential service.”
In a discussion with the teachers in his neighborhood, Mosley said he learned that while Fort Worth ISD has provided technology devices for students of low-income families, some of them didn’t bring it home, because they don’t have access to the internet.
“The internet is no longer a luxury,” he said. “It’s a necessity for everyone, especially families.”