CLEVELAND — If you don’t understand what the Digital Divide is all about, head over to Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood. It’s home to Cleveland Clinic – a world-renowned health care system. But in the shadows of the Cleveland Clinic campus, residents just blocks away don’t have access to a reliable internet connection.
“We’ve known for a long time that this was a city with a significant digital divide – one of the biggest divides in the nation” said Dr. Adam Myers, Chief of Population Health at the Cleveland Clinic. “More than 50,000 households don’t have reliable internet access.”
It’s been estimated that the problem affects two-thirds of Cleveland students and their parents who often have to go to libraries or leave home to get online.
“You have to have not just a hotspot, but you have to have high speed internet connectivity to ensure that the students are connected,” said Sherelle Tucker, Cleveland Clinic’s Director of Community and Economic Development.
While internet connectivity has been an issue for many years, the problem was exacerbated by the pandemic. While many across the country have been forced to work from home, learn from home, and even seek medical care by virtual means, many Clevelanders don’t even have the option to do so.
Andrew Leff wondered, “how can I literally be a 5-minute walk from the hospital and have that happen?”
He typically got an unreliable internet connection from his service provider with speeds below 6 Mbps.
“For them to tell me that 6 MB was the reality… you can’t really complain. You take what you can get,” said Leff.
Cleveland Clinic is now teaming up with DigitalC to help fix the situation for residents living in the neighborhoods near its campus. The healthcare system is installing specialized rooftop antennas that will send reliable high-speed wireless internet signals to the homes of subscribers.
The broadband service available to customers will be provided by EmpowerCLE founded and operating within DigitalC – the nonprofit organization dedicated to getting digital equity for Clevelanders. The service will be better while costing less for residents thanks to contributions by TransDigm and the Lubrizol Foundation to subsidize monthly fees and equipment costs.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further illuminated the crucial role internet access plays in the overall health and well-being a population, and it is critical that we work to overcome digital inequities,” said Dr. Tom Mihaljevic, President and CEO of Cleveland Clinic in a press release.
Mihaljevic continues, “Cleveland Clinic is proud to be part of this initiative and to have partners who will help support our community to deliver the tools, resources and services needed to foster growth and education for our closest neighbors for years to come.”
For residents who have already subscribed to the service, it’s a welcomed technological upgrade.
“It’s tough enough when it is a fair shake for everybody. And when it isn’t, luckily somebody came and did something about it,” said Leff. He was able to quadruple service speeds in his home by switching to the new service.
As an early adopter, he’s excited to spread the word to others who live nearby so they’ll have the ability to work from home, learn from home, and get online without wondering whether the connection will work.
“COVID made it very real. It completely amplified the healthcare disparities that have been standing out in the communities for so long,” said Dr. Myers.
Tucker added, “It’s really done a lot and will continue to do a lot to make sure that those things we take for granted --those of us who are connected -- that other’s without that connection are able to take advantage as well.”
The rollout in Fairfax is expected to be complete by Spring 2021.