The California Department of Education estimates that nearly a half-million students still lack either a device to attend school online, network access to their classroom, or both. In California, digital inequity has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with lasting effects that continue to disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color. This widening gap makes scalable innovations that can improve the availability and affordability of 21st-century classroom, home and workforce-ready internet all the more critical.
On February 2, 2021, Michelson 20MM founder and co-chair, Dr. Gary K. Michelson met with the California Department of Education’s Task Force on Closing the Digital Divide to raise awareness of this crisis that plagues Californians across generations.
During the task force meeting, Dr. Michelson joined California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to announce a new effort to address the crisis: the California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge. “We ought to tap the best minds in research, technology, entrepreneurs, who can come up with the next big idea to help us close the digital divide,” said Superintendent Thurmond.
“Now is the time to call upon the brightest minds in the world, provide a platform for new ideas to overcome the digital divide, and make it obsolete,” Dr. Michelson said. “This effort will send a message that California is ready to greenlight the boldest proposals possible through an unprecedented competition to develop solutions that can help students right away. We are pleased to partner with the California Department of Education and its foundation to launch this ambitious challenge.”
Dr. Michelson’s invitation continues Michelson 20MM’s commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship as catalysts for change and progress. “This can lead to the next big thing in closing the digital divide,” Superintendent Thurmond added.
The Challenge was enthusiastically welcomed by members of the Legislature. “This is what we need, thinking outside the box,” said Senator Connie Levya.
“I’ve been wondering why we depend so much on current technologies [when] they may not be the solution,” Assemblymember Autumn Burke said. “I just want to thank [Dr. Michelson] and Superintendent Thurmond [for taking] that leap.”
Led by the California Department of Education in partnership with Michelson 20MM Foundation, General Motors, Genentech, and other organizations, the California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge seeks to identify and develop technology that will make affordable broadband internet access universally accessible across the state, without exception.
Inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and other innovators from the public and private sectors are encouraged to participate for a chance to win a $1 million prize as recognition for work that substantially improves the lives of millions of Californians.
“This prize, even at one million dollars, is nothing more than a trumpet call,” Michelson added. “The real prize is that the technology will serve tens of millions and make tens of billions.”
“If we truly want to ensure all students have access to the technology and tools that not only help them access their learning remotely—but will be needed for success the rest of their lives—we cannot rest until the internet flows into households like electricity,” said Superintendent Thurmond.
Bold, revolutionary applications and out-of-the-box connectivity solutions are encouraged. Anyone may submit ideas to email@example.com. Submissions will be reviewed on a rolling basis by a panel of public sector leaders and technology experts with more details announced soon. The award will go to the first specific, actionable proposal that can “end the digital divide, once and for all.”
Official California Department of Education announcement.