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Miami Connected Initiative Aims To Bridge Digital Divide

miami connected.jpeg
Arlester J Shorter II/The Miami Foundation
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The Miami Foundation
City of Miami Mayor, Francis X. Suarez; Miami-Dade County Mayor, Daniella Levine-Cava; Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent, Alberto Carvalho; Achieve Miami Executive Director, Sarah Emmons; Achieve Miami Founder, Leslie Miller Saiontz; The Miami Foundation president and CEO, Rebecca Fishman Lipsey; Booker T. Washington High School principal, Kevin E. Lawrence.

Miami has the lowest rate of internet access out of all cities in the state, according to a Florida International University study.

In an effort to combat that lack of access, the Miami Foundation and Achieve Miami announced the Miami Connected initiative at a press conference this past Monday. It will bring two years of free broadband connectivity to more than 100,000 students in Miami-Dade County.

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The initiative to make the county more technologically inclusive is supported by Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava — all of which were present at the initiative’s launch.

“In order to engage healthily and successfully in society, [people] need running water in their home, they need electricity, they need access to the internet,” said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, president and CEO of the Miami Foundation.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of being digitally connected, it only exacerbated South Florida's digital divide — especially among low-income communities. Carvalho discussed that issue during the conference.

“Let us not kid ourselves, the children who have fallen victim to the COVID crisis and have experienced a disconnected life and academic regression were already in crisis before COVID,” he said.

Fishman Lipsey said that The Miami Foundation and Achieve Miami wanted to figure out a way to not just solve this connectivity crisis for a short period of time but in a longer term for everyone in the county.

The initiative’s first phase is for free connectivity to 22,000 eligible students in four Miami-Dade County neighborhoods, expanding that coverage in a second phase on a school-by-school basis. Miami Connected will also help provide career information and host digital literacy workshops for students and their families.

“Part of the digital literacy training that we’ll be offering is making sure not just that you know how to use the internet, but you know how to use the internet safely,” Fishman Lipsey said.

The program will start at Booker T. Washington High School in Overtown. According to the school’s principal, Kevin E. Lawrence, many students at Booker T. Washington were dependent on internet hotspots and digital devices provided by the district.

In an interview with Hy-Lo News he mentioned some students had to resort to visiting their local McDonald’s for Wi-Fi.

Lawrence hopes that this initiative will especially help students who became disengaged during the pandemic due to the lack of internet connection.

“Bring it to a level playing field, where our students actually have connection with the internet and they have proper devices to put them in a place where they can keep up with other kids across the district," he said.