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In 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that electricity was not a luxury reserved for only those with means, but a necessity for modern American life. As a result of intentional public policy decisions established throughout the 20th century, even the most rural areas of the United States now have access to electricity. The same shift in public opinion and legislative actions are necessary to address the digital divide that exists between those with access to the internet and those without. 

In a world struck by COVID-19, internet access is more fundamental than ever to livelihoods, education, and quality of life. But in California, Black, Latinx, rural and low-income households are disproportionately unconnected to the internet. Bridging the digital divide is the challenge of our time akin to “electrifying America,” and failing to do so risks low-income, rural, and students of color falling further behind their peers in school and widening the inequities that already exist in our society. At Michelson 20MM we’re promoting universal internet connectivity as a method of increasing equity, and amplifying awareness on the issue with our new virtual event series Connecting California: Solving the Digital Divide.

On Thursday, August 6, we launched our inaugural webinar of the series diving into the history of the digital divide in the United States and across California. Michelson 20MM Founder Gary K. Michelson, M.D. kicked off the event with opening remarks framing internet connectivity as a 21st Century human right, an indispensable utility like running water, gas, and electricity. The event served as the latest opportunity to convene philanthropy around deeper commitments to digital equity for California students and families. 

Connecting California was presented by co-hosts The Michelson 20MM Foundation and The Office of Governor Gavin Newsom in service of advancing digital equity for all CA students and families. The thought-provoking discussion included Lande Ajose, the Senior Policy Advisor on Higher Education to Governor Gavin Newsom who is responsible for developing and shaping the Governor’s higher education policy agenda. During her opening remarks, Lande provided context and updates on the state’s digital divide response as students of all ages prepare for a virtual back-to-school season. 

A panel of subject matter experts joined the conversation and shared insights into the digital divide and actions that can be taken to narrow this equity gap. These experts included: 

  • Ernesto Falcon – Senior Legislative Counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Ernesto focuses on intellectual property, open internet issues, broadband access, and competition policy. He advocates for a free and open internet before state legislatures and Congress. 
  • Jeanne Holm – Chief Data Officer and Senior Technology Advisor to the Mayor, City of Los Angeles. Jesse helps 4 million people and 500,000 businesses get access to and use data for innovation, equity, health and safety. 
  • Jessica Howard – CEO of Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation. Jessica brings private and public funders together to better resource California’s teachers, students, and schools.
  • Devon Miner – State Network Manager with National Skills Coalition. Devon supports the development and promotion of a network of state coalitions working to advance policies that support industry engagement, skills equity, public accountability and job-driven investment. 
  • Angela Siefer – Executive Director of National Digital Inclusion Alliance, the organization she helped found is a unified voice for home broadband access, public broadband access, personal devices & local technology training and support programs.

Special thanks to Southern California Grantmakers and the California Community Foundation for their partnership. The next entry in our Connecting California web series will focus on the importance of public-private partnerships in ensuring all Californians have access to reliable, high-speed internet. Join our mailing list to stay up to date on all the latest happenings at Michelson 20MM. 

In case you missed it, it’s not too late! Access the webinar recording here.