Detroit officials on Monday introduced eight new technology centers in the city, the first of dozens, aimed at closing the digital divide for 200,000 residents who struggle with having an internet connection.
Each tech hub offers everything from free WiFi and device loaner programs to IT workforce training and tech support. The city’s Department of Information and Technology has launched a online map to help residents search and find the closest Certified Tech Hub near them and learn which digital resources it provides.
Christine Burkette, Detroit’s digital equity and inclusion director, announced the launch at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan on Tireman Avenue, which is one of the certified tech hubs near where she grew up. Burkette said the goal is to eventually have 35 certified tech hubs, five in each of the city’s districts.
With more than 220,000 residents at or below the federal poverty level, it’s essential to provide the “basic digital literacy skill training or they’ll never scale up for those job opportunities,” Burkette said. “In turn, we want to make sure that we’re offering IT workforce development training in each of these tech hubs.”
The hubs, six more of which are pending, are funded with $535,000 in federal pandemic relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Organizations must apply and meet specific criteria determined by Burkette and her team to be considered certified as a hub. All locations that are certified by the department will have a flyer with a City of Detroit seal posted at the entrance.
“Bridging the digital divide starts with access that ends the closing the socio-economic disadvantages,” Burkette said. “This all started with one woman at a bus stop in the rain, waiting to catch three buses to get to a bank to deposit her check… when she didn’t know she could do it on her phone.”
It’s been a decade since the Federal Communications Commission began pointing out Detroit’s digital divide as “among the most extreme in the nation.” In 2015, 38% of the city’s residents did not have broadband internet access at home. For low-income households, the percentage offline was a whopping 63%.
Today, about 15% remain offline, or nearly 100,000 people, according to data provided to the city from major corporations like AT&T and T-Mobile. However, Burkette is fact-checking it. She’s coordinated an effort with the University of Chicago Data Science Institute to place computers in neighborhoods to test bandwidth and determine the data independently.
For older homes in Detroit made out of cinderblock, that can cause connection issues; it’s not an issue of availability, Burkette said. Detroit already offers free WiFi in all public buildings and downtown spaces.
The recreation centers chosen by the city are expected to have upgraded tech hubs completed by 2026.
“We’re putting a lot of money into it to make sure they have the latest technology,” Burkette said. “We want to make sure residents also have tech support because so many can’t go into a Best Buy or Apple store to get their devices fixed… that’s our next step. After that, teenagers are asking us for gaming centers.”
Shannon Dulin, director of community impact for Comcast in Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, said in 2020, the company created “Life Zones” to connect more families to reliable computers and free internet access in neighborhood community centers, gyms and recreation facilities.
Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison said they realized during the pandemic that residents need equitable, high-speed internet and more importantly, devices have to be available and residents need to know how to work them.
“Having these city-certified tech hubs that are reliable, safe, and know that it’s a computerized training course that will teach you how to use it… mean the difference between success or failure for our residents,” Bettison said. “Whether they’re working on schoolwork or finding a job or accessing telehealth. You’ll also be able to go to the locations to get this digital training that is so necessary.”
More than 90,000 residents are taking advantage of a $30 discount on internet provided through the city. The city has also given out 120,000 devices to residents and institutions to boost their internet, Burkette said.
Eight centers available
- Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, open 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday – Friday at 16500 Tireman Ave., Detroit.
- Detroit Association of Black Organizations, open 9 a.m. – noon daily at 12048 Grand River, Detroit.
- Adam Butzel Complex, open 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday – Friday and 9 a.m. – 6 pm. on Saturday.
- Detroit Housing Commission Envision Center, open 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday at 1047 E. Canfield, Detroit.
- Patton Recreation Center, open 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday – Friday and 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday at 2301 Woodmere St., Detroit.
- Roberto Clemente Center, open 1-9 p.m. Monday – Friday at 2631 Bagley St., Detroit.
- SAY Detroit Play Center, open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Sunday.
- The Stoudamire Wellness Hub, open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at 4401 Conner St., Detroit.