Keeping Tabs on the Digital Divide

The LinkAge

Featured: Tech Goes Home

TGH

Organization Name: Tech Goes Home (TGH)

Mission: To provide underserved residents the opportunity, tools, education, and access required for 21st century skills development

How did your organization get started and become involved with digital access?

TGH was founded in 2000 as a way to get technology into the hands of those who could not afford it. In 2010, the City of Boston was awarded a federal grant to expand and improve TGH in partnership with the Boston Public Library, Boston Centers for Youth & Families, Boston Housing Authority, Boston Public Schools, and the Timothy Smith Network. Since 2010, more than 13,000 individuals have completed the TGH program.

What effect does Internet access (or lack thereof) have on your beneficiaries’ lives?

Internet access and skills are no longer a luxury, and lack thereof is widening the opportunity gap between the underserved populations we aim to support and their wealthier neighbors. With more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies (including Wal-Mart and Target) requiring online job applications, Internet access has become the doorway to employment.

It’s also an enormous cost-saver, saving the connected up to $7,000 per year, according to the Internet Innovation Alliance. We see this every day when hourly wage working parents take valuable hours off work to travel to City Hall for services they could easily access online.

The impact for students is huge as well: Many municipal and school resource opportunities are only available online. Studies across the country have found a correlation between access and academic achievement. Students without home access are turning to McDonald’s to finish their homework, since resources such as local libraries usually close around five p.m. While we’re glad students are finding access outside where they live, we’d argue that the home is usually a healthier learning environment than a bustling fast food restaurant.

What are the biggest challenges you face when trying to get people online? What’s your advice for other organizations interested in getting their beneficiaries Internet access?

The Pew Research Internet Project found that relevance, usability, and price are the main reasons non-Internet users cite for lacking home access, so we’re addressing all three:

  1. Relevance: TGH participants without home access often don’t realize the impact it can have on their lives until they experience it firsthand. With that in mind, we teach trainers to share tips on how Internet access can actually save money, such as saving time and transit costs by accessing city resources online via Boston’s Citizens Connect, and free or low-cost long distance/international calling on Gmail.
  2. Usability: TGH participants complete the program having learned basic Internet skills and knowing they can always revisit techgoeshome.org for free multilingual tutorials on how to use trusted websites.
  3. Price: We offer program graduates the option to buy a new computer (Chromebook or tablet, depending on the program) for $50, and help them find low-cost Internet options via our customized EveryoneOn portal, connectingboston.org. We are able to subsidize the devices through the funds we raise via government support, grant-writing, and fundraising.

Can you briefly describe your strategy for informing your constituents about the available offers and facilitating enrollment?

TGH is coordinating a citywide campaign to help Boston residents get online. We’re partnering with the City of Boston, EveryoneOn, libraries, schools, community-based organizations, and local leaders to disseminate information about how to find low-cost options. We’ve created a web portal and basic tutorials to help people sign up. To learn more or to download our free PDFs, visit connectingboston.org or techgoeshome.org and click on “Connecting Boston.”


<p><em>Theodora Higginson is co-director of Tech Goes Home, which she joined in 2012, originally as a New Sector AmeriCorps Resident. Prior to that, she worked in communications for Ashoka in Washington, DC.</em></p>
<p><em>Daniel Noyes is co-director of Tech Goes Home and has been with TGH since the summer of 2010.  After spending several years as a Legislative Aide to a U.S. Congressman in Washington, DC, he returned to Boston as the technology director at Fenway High School. In 2006, he was hired by the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester to help implement the largest middle school 1:1 laptop initiative in New England. Dan has been involved with TGH since 2002.</em></p>
<p><em>Madeline Boston is TGH’s director of volunteers. Prior to arriving in Boston, she worked in Kenya at Moving the Goalpost, where she partnered with local women to create educational activities administered in nine schools for over 100 students.</em></p>
<p><em>Follow them and TGH on Twitter <a href=”http://twitter.com/techgoeshome” target=”_blank”>@TechGoesHome</a>.</em></p>