AT&T is donating $1 million to help 10,000 Dallas-Fort Worth residents connect to the internet over the next two years.
The effort aims to bridge the gap between those with access to digital technology and those without it, also known as the digital divide. At least 75,000 families across Dallas County lacked reliable internet access in 2020, according to the Internet for All coalition.
In total, Dallas-based AT&T previously said it will spend $2 billion between 2021 and 2023 to help bridge the gap.
The new initiative is led by the Dallas Innovation Alliance, a coalition founded in 2015 with stakeholders from the City of Dallas and other organizations to help Dallas evolve into a smart global city.
The $1 million will pay for digital ambassadors to help communities connect to the internet and learn how to use it for tasks like paying bills, applying for jobs and helping children do their schoolwork.
Based on conversations with 20 of the alliance’s peers across the country, this is the first program of its kind, said Jennifer Sanders, executive director and co-founder of the Dallas Innovation Alliance.
“We can have all the infrastructure in the world, but if people don’t know how to access that, or they can’t afford it, we haven’t solved the problem,” Sanders said. “And so we’re so grateful to be able to do a program like this that we think fills one of the most complicated gaps in actually getting connected.”
The program will involve four components, including a tech support line, a call center, a website with self-service and community anchor sites. While plans are still in development, Sanders said the program will be marketed via word of mouth and office hours in apartment communities.
Sanders said the program wants to help people get their lives back by taking advantage of the internet’s resources.
“If you don’t know that you can pay your water bill online, you might take a half day off of work and stand in line at City Hall,” she said.
Mylayna Albright, assistant vice president of corporate social responsibility at AT&T, said the COVID-19 pandemic “amplified” the digital divide as millions of students shifted to online learning. Some parents didn’t have the skillsets to help their kids keep up with their studies online, she said.
“We’re going to continue working to help provide opportunities that give students and families the opportunity to fully participate in an increasingly connected world,” Albright said. “This is probably one of the largest commitments that AT&T has made.”