On May 4, 2017, five Connect Ohio communities formed a panel to tell their stories from varying backgrounds at the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Institute Workshop in Dublin, Ohio. These communities—Youngstown-Mahoning, Meigs-Vinton Counties, Wyandot County, Fairfield County, and the City of Dayton—were chosen to participate in the Connected Community Engagement Program (Connectedsm) because of the quality of their community leadership and their strong desire work toward better broadband strategy planning.
Panelist Pat Kerrigan is the founder of the Oak Hill Collaborative from Youngstown, Ohio. The Oak Hill Collaborative is a non-profit that focuses on being a neighborhood revitalizer. Kerrigan emphasized that 40% of the Youngstown population is in poverty. The Oak Hill Collaborative does what it can in the neighborhood to provide people with tech-related skills, such as teaching children how to build their own computers.
“We are on our eighth class right now, and we’re giving free computers to participants so they can learn how to build them themselves . . . it’s part of what all this broadband access is about,” Kerrigan said.
“The ultimate end goals are to increase capacity, to have more intelligent users, and to make cheaper and more available equipment.”
Kerrigan mentions that this program helps to create a demand for broadband access within a community. “We’re changing the mission of the Oak Hill Collaborative to focus on broadband. It helps the neighborhood businesses and incorporates our wiliness to teach.”
Another panelist was Rick Szabrak, Economic Development Director for Fairfield County. His mission is about preparing businesses and areas to adjust to a technology-advanced region. Szabrak wants Fairfield County to be as tech savvy as Columbus and a digital first community. He asked himself, “How do we start?” and then began identifying Fairfield’s needs.
“Fairfield County is a mixture of the suburbs of Columbus and more rural areas; we struggle with that mix of this Digital Divide so we have many stories to tell.”
Szabrak needed to promote Fairfield County as innovative and change the mindset of community members to view the county as such. To start, he sent out a survey to influential businesses and residents asking them to pass along the survey to discover who had Internet access.
“We had over 1,700 responses . . . which revealed that we need to focus on the people that don’t have access. The biggest thing was that it got people excited about getting involved. It’s now made us focused on technology as a community,” Szabrak said.
These communities have made tremendous efforts to share their region’s story, and the progress made through the grant has impacted the digital lives of the people. In other words, The Digital Divide is shrinking in areas as demand for Internet is increasing.