The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Supporting Foundation and the David and Inez Myers Foundation today announced transformative investments in DigitalC, a nonprofit wireless internet provider focused on making Greater Cleveland’s digital future equitable. The grant, $18 million from the Mandel Foundation and $2 million from Myers, will allow DigitalC to expand capacity to provide access and accelerate adoption of its broadband connectivity infrastructure throughout the city and enable residents to leverage the technology for educational, health and economic opportunities.
In an effort to systemically address Cleveland’s digital divide, the Mandel Foundation has committed $15 million to spur DigitalC’s organizational development and capacity to scale its team and business support systems. Mandel and Myers together have pledged an additional $5 million to help the nonprofit empower Greater Cleveland residents to maximize the full potential of the technology by offering wraparound services to put the technology quickly to use.
“With this investment of private dollars, DigitalC will have the unequalled organizational capacity to expand and deliver high speed, high quality, reliable and affordable broadband to unserved and underserved Clevelanders for many years and to facilitate its use to meet the needs of city residents,” said Steve Hoffman, chairman of the Mandel Foundation. “Together, our two organizations have thoroughly studied DigitalC, and our due diligence clearly shows that the comprehensive, economical and innovative approach the nonprofit offers is the best plan to provide equitable broadband access in Greater Cleveland. We call on public partners at all levels to fund the capital and equipment costs that DigitalC is ready to put to use to build out this future-forward technology network with coverage for 130,000 households within the next three years.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine praised the contributions to close and bridge Greater Cleveland’s digital divide.
“Investments in broadband are investments in Ohio’s future,” said DeWine. “As economic and educational opportunities are increasingly connected to technology and the internet, the commitment of the Mandel and Myers foundations to bring more widespread broadband access to Cleveland will go far to help ensure that citizens have access to the resources they need to succeed.”
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who oversees distribution of funding through BroadbandOhio, an office within the Development Services Agency dedicated to improving access to high-speed internet across the state, stressed the importance of forging collaborations.
“It’s going to take private, public and philanthropic leadership to help provide high-speed, affordable broadband to the people in urban and rural Ohio who don’t have access,” said Husted. “This announcement is a very positive step toward connecting people who’ve been left behind.”
Cleveland has the highest percentage of households without broadband internet accounts of any U.S. city with 100,000 or more households, according to 2019 data released by the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey (ACS). Nearly 80,000 Cleveland households reported not having a wireline broadband connection (cable, fiber optic or DSL). Additionally, almost 53,000 households — 31% of the city’s total — lacked broadband subscriptions at any speed, including mobile data plans.
“The Mandel brothers were raised in Cleveland, created their business here and demonstrated their steadfast commitment to improving the lives of the city’s residents,” said Dr. Jehuda Reinharz, President and CEO of the Mandel Foundation. “These foundation grants continue to sustain their legacy of love for Cleveland.”
The profound and far-reaching negative impacts of such lack of connectivity has been highlighted and heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While various community partners have rallied to address the needs of the moment with short-term remedies throughout the pandemic, DigitalC’s model is an equitable, long-term solution for Greater Cleveland,” said Leslie Dunn, President of the Myers Foundation. “Access to high-performing broadband is essential to fully participate in society, whether applying for a job or benefits, participating in telehealth or developing new skills in an increasingly digital economy.”
Since 2016, DigitalC has invested more than $10 million to connect Greater Cleveland’s unserved and underserved. In addition, the nonprofit has demonstrated the importance of community engagement by building partnerships from the ground up, connecting with leaders and anchor organizations within each neighborhood.
“We’re very grateful to the Mandel and Myers foundations for validating our technology and model as the optimum solution, and for their commitment to support long overdue, sustainable and scalable access that creates true equity across our community,” said DigitalC CEO Dorothy Baunach. “Through our work on the ground the last few years, we’ve built out and proven a wireless technology solution to deliver on our purpose – for today and tomorrow.”
With the investment from the foundations, DigitalC is positioned to expand its network from six to 34 neighborhoods and increase its subscriber base beyond the current more than 1,000 households. Its tiered, wireless network creates a robust, long-term solution for ensuring an equitable digital future in Greater Cleveland.
“Closing the digital divide is a top priority for Cuyahoga County,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “Our work with DigitalC has been critical to getting Fairfax residents access to the internet, and we’re currently working on getting residents connected in the Central neighborhood. This is a collaborative effort, and I am thankful for the generous philanthropic support of the Mandel Foundation and Myers Foundation. Their support will allow County contributions to go even farther, as we continue our work to connect residents.”
Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley points to the investments by the foundations as critical to promoting digital equity within the city.
“We look forward to participating in this important work to ensure Cleveland residents have access to affordable, home-based internet,” Council President Kelley said. “We have been speaking to the administration on ways to join this effort so that all households can have the access that is so needed.”
DigitalC was recognized as the premier, comprehensive urban model for addressing the digital divide when US Ignite awarded Cleveland a Project OVERCOME broadband award earlier this year. US Ignite is an independent nonprofit funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to examine the impact of broadband on the 21st century.
“Cleveland’s DigitalC brought a complete package to the table in the NSF-US Ignite Project OVERCOME competition,” said Dr. Glenn Ricart, US Ignite’s chief technology officer. “In addition to providing some of the highest wireless bandwidths to the homes of Greater Cleveland’s unserved and underserved, DigitalC provides training and access to devices to ensure that future-proof bandwidth can be put to immediate and productive use for critical priorities today while enabling scaling necessary for the needs of tomorrow.”
Locally, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority, The Cleveland Foundation, Cleveland Clinic, The MetroHealth System, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, University Hospitals, Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland, among others, have provided vital support and partnership to DigitalC. In addition, the nonprofit is partnering with some of the world’s technology leaders including Microsoft, Nokia and Siklu.
“This is a critical moment in time for us as a community to move from rhetoric to reality,” said the Mandel Foundation’s Hoffman. “DigitalC is transforming the technological access and equity landscape while simultaneously empowering Greater Cleveland residents to incorporate its many uses into their daily lives.”
About DigitalC and EmpowerCLE: DigitalC is a non-profit organization committed to bridging Greater Cleveland’s digital divide by providing residents with equitable pathways to the digital future. Since 2017, DigitalC has invested more than $10 million to prove its tiered-technology and community-based partnership model for providing reliable and affordable broadband internet to Cleveland’s most unserved and underserved neighborhoods. The EmpowerCLE network now has the capacity to serve 3,500 households and will grow to serve more than 40,000 households with this investment and the investment of other private, philanthropic and public sector partners in capital costs, hardware and its empowerment model to help ensure that Clevelanders have a competitive advantage in the digital economy.