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Digital divide: Organizations that are helping bridge the gap

Joe Supan

Jun 24, 2021 — 6 min read

Nonprofits across the US are working to provide affordable internet connections and devices to marginalized communities around the country.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, there are few issues as pressing today as the digital divide — especially for students who have had to adapt to remote learning in the past year. 

According to a June 2020 report from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group, more than 50 million public school students were learning from home, but a staggering nine million of them didn’t have the necessary device or internet connection.

This gap usually falls along racial and economic lines. According to a Pew Research Center study, Black and Hispanic people were around 25% less likely to own a laptop or desktop than white people, and 13% and 18% less likely to have a home broadband subscription, respectively. 

Fortunately, there are a number of nonprofits currently working to address the issue. We vetted each of these organizations using ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer tool to ensure that they are using donations responsibly.

Organizations addressing internet access

sThe primary barrier for many people connecting to the internet is a lack of affordable or high-speed options in their area. These organizations are working to get more people connected with quality home broadband services. 

EveryoneOn

One of the few digital divide nonprofits that addresses internet service itself, EveryoneOn helps connect low-income families with affordable internet plans and devices in their area. Its flagship program, Connect2Compete, partners with national broadband providers to offer reduced internet plans for qualifying families. It also has a number of free digital literacy training programs for adults looking to improve their skills. 

human-I-T

One of the more well-known nonprofits working to address the digital divide, human-I-T aims to provide people with the equipment and internet access they need to thrive in a digital world. In addition to refurbishing and distributing donated equipment, human-I-T also helps people get connected to affordable internet options in their area. You just fill out a form with your information, and one of their volunteers will contact you to discuss your best options. 

Mobile Citizen

While not a nonprofit itself, Mobile Citizen provides low-cost wireless internet to nonprofit organizations, educational entities and social welfare agencies. The service operates nationwide on the Sprint network, and plans range from entirely free to $10/mo. for qualifying organizations. All plans come with unlimited data.

National Digital Inclusion Alliance

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) is one of the largest organizations addressing the digital divide in the U.S. It brings together hundreds of community advocates around the country who are working to expand broadband access. The NDIA works in every area of the issue, from connecting consumers to low-cost plans available to them to lobbying for federal funding. If you’re looking for a place to get started, the NDIA acts as a sort of headquarters for nonprofits addressing the digital divide.

Partners Bridging the Digital Divide

If you’re looking for an all-in-one resource for organizations promoting equitable internet access, Partners Bridging the Digital Divide provides a useful directory of these nonprofits. They are also an excellent source for learning more about strategies to bridge the digital divide, with regular newsletters an experience papers that consolidate learnings from across their 36 partner organizations.

Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition

The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: It advocates for better broadband connections in anchor institutions and their communities. The SHLB Coalition primarily accomplishes its goals by lobbying Congress to properly fund these community anchors. 

Organizations that refurbish devices

There are a number of nonprofit organizations that are helping to close the digital divide by recycling and refurbishing computers and devices. Most of them accept donations in the form of cash or devices themselves.  

Close the Gap

Close the Gap is an international nonprofit organization that provides refurbished computers to schools and social agencies in developing countries. They coordinate every step of the process, from collecting donations to refurbishing the old technology to installing and maintaining the computers in their new homes. Since 2003, Close the Gap has distributed more than a million computers from companies around the world. 

Computers for Kids

As a registered Microsoft refurbisher, Computers for Kids specializes in taking old computers, fixing them up like new and donating them to schools, nonprofits and students in grades K-14. Since 2002, the organization has distributed over 50,000 refurbished Microsoft computers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. 

Devices for Students

Created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our education system, Devices for Students aims to provide children all the tools they need to learn remotely. The organization purchases laptops and data hotspots and takes donations, then configures them with the necessary software for online learning and distributes them to students in need. 

Notebooks for Students

Started in 1998 by a group of college students who struggled to find laptops for their classwork, Notebooks for Students sells discounted computer equipment to students. All of the nonprofit’s laptops are certified by technicians and include a four-year warranty. In most cases, they are significantly discounted from the retail price. 

Two Screens for Teachers

The name says it all. Two Screens for Teachers was created to address a very specific problem that’s come up during the COVID-19 pandemic: Teachers often only have one computer and can’t see their students and their lesson plans at the same time. The nonprofit uses cash donations to buy extra monitors and distributes them for free to teachers who request them.

Regional organizations

In addition to the nonprofits above who are addressing the digital divide from a national level, there are a number of regional organizations working on the issue, too.  

Byte Back: Washington D.C. and Baltimore, MD

This D.C.-based nonprofit focuses on providing free classes to students to prepare them for careers in tech. Once students graduate from one of Byte Back’s professional tracks, the organization connects them with local companies that are hiring. It also offers free “Computer Foundations” courses for adults who are new to computers or looking to update their skills.

Computer Mentors: Tampa Bay, FL

This nonprofit focuses its attention on communities that have been most impacted by the digital divide. Computer Mentors connects people working in the tech industry to help train young people on the tools needed to succeed in those careers. It also has a local electronics recycling program that allows people to donate old phones and computers to children in the program. 

Computers for Classrooms: California

One of the oldest digital divide nonprofits around, Computers for Classrooms has been connecting students and low-income earners with technology since 1991. The nonprofit receives donations and sells them to schools and eligible individuals at a reduced price. Laptops currently start at $150 on their website. 

Computing for All: Seattle, WA

Computing for All says its mission is to help people who are “under-represented in the IT industry and lacking in opportunities.” It does this by offering training, mentoring and hands-on work in several different career tracks to high school juniors and seniors. Computing for All also partners with local businesses to give students first-hand experience in the industry. 

Government programs

Computers for Learning

The Computers for Learning program was created as a part of an Executive Order signed by President Clinton in 1996, and it’s still going strong today. It allows federal agencies to donate their excess computers and technology, where eligible recipients can then view and request specific equipment. The program is open to K-12 schools and educational nonprofits.

Emergency Broadband Benefit

Launched in May 2021, the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit is distributing over $3 billion directly to people who need it. Anyone who receives SNAP, Medicaid or other federal low-income benefits is eligible to get $50/mo. off their internet bill, along with anyone who experienced a substantial loss of income during the pandemic. This is a temporary program, though, so it will only last as long as it still has funds. 

Lifeline

Lifeline is a permanent program that provides $9.25/mo. to low-income households for their cellphone or internet bills. Like the Emergency Broadband Benefit, you’ll need to qualify for a federal program like SNAP or Medicaid to take advantage of Lifeline.

Emergency Connectivity Fund

The FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund is a $7.17 billion program that aims to keep schools and libraries connected for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The window to apply for funds will be open from June 29 to Aug. 13, 2021.

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Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Senior Writer, Broadband Content

Joe oversees all things broadband for Allconnect. His work has been referenced by Yahoo!, Lifehacker and more. He has utilized thousands of data points to build a library of metrics to help users navigate these … Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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