Addressing the Digital Divide in Communities Across the U.S.
Capital One is furthering digital inclusion through strategic partnerships and innovative programming
September 27, 2023
Access to the internet, hardware and sufficient digital infrastructure effectively serve as the ‘on ramp’ to services such as remote working, education and telehealth.
However, for some communities, lack of access to affordable and reliable digital services, devices and infrastructure has created a digital divide.
According to the Federal Communications Commission's 2023 National Broadband Map, 8.3 million U.S. homes and businesses lack access to high-speed internet.
Despite improvements in infrastructure and connectivity, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that a significant gap persists in broadband access in urban areas where high speed broadband coverage is often more limited in low-income areas, as well as among rural populations because of infrastructure limitations.
Those inequities disproportionately impact adults with lower incomes (below $30,000 annually). According to a Pew Research Center survey, more than four-in-ten adults with lower incomes do not have home broadband services or a desktop or laptop computer. Roughly a quarter of adults with lower incomes say they don’t own a smartphone.
Capital One’s Efforts to Close the Digital Divide
Through innovative programs and partnerships with organizations striving to improve digital access, Capital One is committed to bridging the digital divide. We are specifically focused on expanding digital access to individuals living in rural communities with populations of 10,000 or less, or in low-income urban areas. Our efforts also aim to equip older adults with the tools needed to navigate changes in technology.
“Digital access is the on-ramp to society,” says Jessa Thomas, Social Impact Advisor of Community Impact and Investment. “Not only is equitable access to the internet a crucial step to closing opportunity gaps, but it also helps people unlock greater upward mobility by improving access to public benefits such as the Affordable Connectivity Program.”
We seek out partnerships that improve digital access for underserved communities. Capital One funds programs led by community organizations that focus primarily on connectivity and enablement.
Examples of our efforts include:
American Library Association Community Connect Program
In partnership with the American Library Association, Capital One launched a free hotspot lending program in 2020 in rural libraries across the U.S. to help bridge the digital divide.
Since Community Connect first launched as a pilot, the program has helped rural residents pursue remote education, advance economic inclusion and increase access to financial management and telehealth resources.
Community Connect seeks to expand the service capacity of rural libraries, equipping them with Wi-Fi hotspots (including service contracts) and HP laptops to lend to patrons, a $2,000 stipend to support implementing financial capability programs, and professional resources from EveryoneOn to help library workers assist patrons in establishing affordable high-speed internet connections. By equipping libraries with resources from EveryoneOn, Capital One and the American Library Association are helping rural residents sign up for internet connectivity at their homes – extending the long-term impact of the program.
Community Connect also includes resources for libraries to hold financial management seminars including Capital One’s Ready, Set, Bank program — an online tutorial that equips people to manage their finances virtually.
Library patrons who have participated in Community Connect have reported positive improvements in the quality of their lives and internet skills. 84 percent of program participants surveyed said Community Connect helped improve their ability to access the internet, and 79 percent said it improved their ability to access key online resources.
To date, Community Connect supports 29 rural public libraries. Since November 2020, sites have lent out hotspots more than 2,234 times.
The Capital One Digital Access Program (CODA)
Launched in 2020, the CODA program explores solutions that promote digital connectivity while minimizing the cost burden to affordable housing residents.
Now in the program’s second stage, CODA currently provides funding for long-term infrastructure support such as internet hardwiring for residential buildings at affordable housing properties that Capital One has helped finance. The program also provides residents with Chromebooks as well as the opportunity to receive support from a resident service coordinator.
This initiative has funded digital access in properties in Houma and New Orleans, LA, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and the Washington, D.C. area — providing free, reliable broadband to more than 1,000 families, the majority of whom previously had low-grade or no internet.
Capital One works alongside developers such as West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) in New York to support digital access for residents.
“CODA has been pivotal in supporting WSFSSH’s goal to help older residents stay connected as communications grows increasingly digital,” says Paul R. Freitag, Executive Director of the WSFSSH. “This ranges from providing the know-how to schedule medical appointments on-line to sharing photos of their grandchildren. CODA is helping our residents thrive as they age.”
In each of the regions where CODA has been implemented, nearly 3 in 4 residents surveyed consistently said CODA has improved their lives. Residents reported that the program had given them further access to seek jobs, healthcare and educational services.
Many of Capital One’s efforts to support digital access are made possible through the Capital One Impact Initiative — a multi-year commitment that strives to catalyze economic growth in low- and moderate-income communities and close gaps in equity and opportunity.