Digital equity initiative continues with Chromebook distribution

Public housing units also provided with free W-Fi to help bridge digital divide.

Residents in five Dayton public housing communities received free Chromebooks Wednesday as part of the Montgomery County Digital Equity Initiative funded largely with $2 million in CARES Act dollars that also paid for the installation of free Wi-Fi networks.

“This is what we need to have and allows us to survive in today’s world,” said Inez Bruner, a resident of Park Manor, who was among those receiving a Chromebook during the first distribution Wednesday.

About 40,000 households — or 13% — in the Dayton metro area lacked access to the internet, according to 2018 Census Bureau American Community Survey data. About 9% of households had no computer and about 9.6% had a smart phone but no computer.

“Dayton, Montgomery County — our whole region — has known for quite some time that not every single person is able to access the internet,” said Montgomery County Commission President Judy Dodge.

Dodge said the roughly 1,000 Chromebooks going out in the current distribution will only help bridge the digital divide a little bit, but “every little bit helps.”

About 2,360 residents in 875 public housing units will directly benefit from the free Chromebooks and Wi-Fi, said Jennifer Heapy, CEO of Greater Dayton Premier Management, the county’s public housing authority.

Credit: STAFF

Credit: STAFF

“It’s going to help our residents take full advantage of those benefits in our community,” Heapy said.

The ability to use the internet will assist residents with job searches and interviews as well as for education and other pursuits, Heapy said.

“This is just going to be such a help to them to be able to let just do simple things,” she said. “Some of them can’t get out and walk much or drive. They can get on and get doctor’s advice from telehealth, as well as just so many other things.”

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

Employees of Cincinnati Bell, which installed the Wi-Fi systems, and CareSource, whose foundation is covering monthly service fees, were at Park Manor Wednesday helping residents set up the Chromebook devices and connect to the internet.

“What’s really important is not only to provide the Wi-Fi, but to provide the devices and the training on how to use the devices,” said John Putnman, director of UniCity at Cincinnati Bell.

The distribution will continue this week and next at Wilkinson Plaza, Westdale Terrace, Fitch and Hawthorn and Desoto Bass Courts.

Community partners launched the $2.8 million digital equity initiative in October. CareSource Foundation funding of $400,000 will help sustain the project for up to three years, but new cash infusions will be needed to keep the service running longer.

Local stakeholders working on sustainable funding for the Digital Equity Initiative include: the city of Dayton, Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority, Dayton Public Schools, Dayton Development Coalition, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, DP&L, CityWide Development Corp., Techknowvate, Montgomery County Educational Service Center, Dayton Children’s Hospital, Five Rivers Health Centers and Technology First.

Bruner said she is still able to drive, but the Chromebook will allow her to take more precautions against the coronavirus.

“This keeps me safer. I can order my groceries online and pick them up,” she said.

The Chromebook distribution Wednesday was the first time in months Bruner has seen many of her neighbors – and expects it will be more months before she sees them again, making the Chromebook a way to stay connected to the community.

“It gives us freedom,” she said.

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