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Notes from the Field

The Redefining Rustbelt Series Talks Broadband

The views expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

As an intern with the Community Development team, I’ve jumped right into learning about the wide range of work that goes on here. In May, I had the opportunity to attend a videoconference in the series “Redefining Rustbelt: A City Exchange of Strategies.” The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland joined three other Reserve Banks to convene groups of stakeholders in Charlotte, Detroit, and Philadelphia to discuss and share strategies around broadband. This included how to leverage digital technology in economic and community development efforts, an issue that could not be more relevant for Cleveland.

When it comes to broadband, Cleveland is a city of contrasts. On one hand, Cleveland is home to one of the fastest commercial broadband networks in the country, an important asset for economic development. But the same city that has some of the fastest internet also ranks at the top of the list for highest percentage of households without any internet access at all. As of 2013, about 36% of households in Cleveland had no internet access of any kind. Among cities of comparable size, only Detroit and Miami ranked higher.1 This gap in access to technology, also known as the digital divide, is a huge challenge for communities across the country because those without internet access find themselves at a disadvantage in school, in the community, and in the workforce.

At the Redefining Rustbelt event we were joined here in Cleveland by about 10 stakeholders representing nonprofits and community organizations, the business community, Cuyahoga County, and Cleveland State University. These stakeholders brought a range of perspectives to the conversation, from organizations focused on community development, like Ashbury Community Services, Connect Your Community 2.0 and OneCommunity, to those focused on economic development, like the Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor. The diversity of stakeholders contributed greatly to the discussion.

Redefining Rustbelt participants heard from the CEO of OneCommunity about his organization’s efforts to address the digital divide. OneCommunity, a non-profit focused on increasing broadband access in Northeast Ohio, helped implement the Connect Your Community (CYC) project, which brought broadband access and training to more than 30,000 residents of seven cities, including Cleveland. One year after the project’s launch, more than 80 percent of those who were introduced to home internet access through the CYC program still had their home accounts, suggesting the project had lasting impacts on broadband access.2 Although the initial project ended in 2013, Connect Your Community 2.0 continues this work in Cleveland and Detroit.3

Broadband is also an important component of economic development efforts in Cleveland. The 100-gigabit network, representing a public-private partnership between OneCommunity, the City of Cleveland, and the federal government, will be the fastest internet commercially available; it will connect the Health-Tech Corridor in downtown to Case Western Reserve in University Circle. The city of Cleveland hopes that this digital infrastructure will incentivize high-tech and big data firms to locate here, bringing people, jobs, and economic growth.4

For the stakeholders involved in the Redefining Rustbelt conversation, I think this was an important opportunity to share best practices and make connections both within and across cities. And for me, this was a great introduction to the community development work happening here at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. I’m looking forward to learning more about work like this happening across the Fourth District.

  1. Callahan, Bill. “The Broadband Divide in Cleveland: It’s About Income.” Presentation at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. 15 May 2015. Available at Return to 1
  2. Ibid. Return to 2
  3. For more information on Connect Your Community 2.0 see Return to 3
  4. For more information on the Health-Tech Corridor see Return to 4