By Cristal Mojica

In 2023, the Michelson 20MM Foundation’s Digital Equity Initiative continued to advance California’s digital equity priorities alongside state, regional, and local partners by ramping up participation and investment in advocacy and systems-change solutions to tackle digital discrimination in all its forms. 

We supported the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) goal to define and create guidelines for digital discrimination by bringing community together in Los Angeles to share their experiences with inequity directly with city leadership; help our communities have a formal process to correct the inaccurate service maps used to allocate critical broadband infrastructure funds; and funded projects through our Spark Grants and Digital Equity Pooled Fund, which will continue to build capacity within communities to sustainably manage and advocate for their own broadband infrastructure. 

Education & Capacity Building

This spring, we hosted a new series of Digital Equity education and advocacy days (April 2023) in the state Capitol to uplift the state’s digital equity priorities and prepare new incoming legislators to be digital equity advocates.

We also led a robust digital redlining media campaign (July-Oct 2023) throughout the summer months to raise awareness of the inaccurate and discriminatory state maps used to allocate Middle Mile dollars, by partnering with #OaklandUndivided and the NAACP on a digital redlining media kit. This resulted in significant coverage in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles—and in the Governor and California Department of Technology announcing a commitment of additional funds to the Middle Mile broadband project to ensure its completion. 

In 2023, the annual Michelson Digital Equity Spark Grants were awarded to three key organizations pioneering the fast-moving digital discrimination work happening at the local and state level, including broadband access research (PPIC), speed tests to inform (and contest) state maps (#OaklandUndivided), and workshops for communities aimed at informing the development of the State Digital Equity Plan (ITUP).

Our Digital Equity Pooled Fund continued to prioritize building capacity within Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC)-led grassroots community organizations working to advance digital equity in the state. Through the Pooled Fund, new grants were awarded to CforAT and NextGen, including the expansion of the operating capacity of the California Alliance for Digital Equity (CADE).

Connecting California: The AI Divide

Panelists during Connecting California: The A.I. Divide

In October, Michelson 20MM hosted the 11th installment of Connecting California: Solving the Digital Divide, focusing on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Equity. This event convened community organizations that provide digital skills training and navigator programs, AI and social work researchers, workforce development experts, educators, State legislative directors, and more to discuss the policy and ethics implications and opportunities. 

Furthering our commitment to foster digital sovereignty among tribal communities, Michelson 20MM Foundation is excited to share a new partnership with the Tribal Resource Center. Aimed at capacity-building within tribal communities, the partnership will support the launch and growth of an online Tribal Communities Forum in 2024 with new biannual convenings for tribal digital equity leaders to aid in their knowledge-sharing and long-term digital sovereignty vision, while also recommitting to supporting the Tribal Broadband Bootcamps in their continued expansion efforts. 

Advocacy and Thought Partnership

In 2023, Michelson 20MM prioritized thought-partnership at all levels: regional, state, and federal.

Throughout the year, the Digital Equity initiative participated in virtual and in-person partner and peer forums, including the Patterson Foundation Funder’s Series, focused on Digital Equity in Education across the nation, and multiple EveryoneOn partner events focused on Digital Equity funding priorities in California and LA County.

Within our county, Michelson 20MM joined a featured Digital Equity panel discussion at the  LAEDC 88 Cities Summit, which is the annual convening for local government and community organizations for all 88 cities in Los Angeles County. The session highlighted the work being done to connect underserved areas in Los Angeles County to broadband networks and stimulate local economies while closing the digital divide.

Cristal Mojia (right) during the Pew Charitable Trust event

Cristal Mojia (right) during the Pew Charitable Trust event

Rounding out the year, it was an honor to be a featured panelist at Pew Charitable Trust’s 75th anniversary policy convening “Beyond Broadband: Advancing Federal and State Leadership of Our Digital Future” in Washington, DC. The invitation-only summit in November included State governors, former FCC chairs, State Broadband Offices, community partners, think tanks, and other foundations prioritizing broadband investments for digital equity across the country. 

In 2024, we look forward to continuing our partnerships, advocacy, and grassroots efforts to achieve digital equity for all Californians!

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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