By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The digital divide is an issue that has long existed, and like many other issues, it was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the majority of the world turned virtual, many were left behind. Here in Milwaukee, the digital divide was evident as many households struggled to obtain adequate technology and broadband coverage.
Earlier this week, Associated Bank and its partner Digital Bridge donated 90 refurbished laptops to United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County and Milwaukee Succeeds. Over the past month, the partners have given away over 270 laptops to organizations across the state.
Jeff Hanson, the executive director of Digital Bridge, explained that nonprofit organization has two overarching goals: reduce e-waste (the number of electronic products in landmines) and get technology into the hands of people who need it most.
“Not everyone has access to technology, but it is a necessary item in this world,” he said. “People are expected to have technology to be a part of today’s society so if you don’t have access, you’re just that much further behind.”
Digital Bridge works with companies and organization such as Associated Bank to refurbish old computers and make them brand new. For example, when Associated Bank is updating its technology, Digital Bridge will collect the old products. The electronic products are kept secure until they can be safely processed and wiped, then they are refurbished and distributed to those in need.
Digital Bridge struggled to distribute laptops during pandemic. It was like the whole world ran out of devices, Hanson said. Thanks to its partnership with Associated Bank, the organization has been able to continue its mission.
LaDonna Reed, the director of community accountability for Associated Bank, explained that the partnership with Digital Bridge is part of the bank’s third Community Commitment Plan. The plan encompasses the bank’s overarching investment in moderate- to low-income communities in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.
As part of the Community Commitment Plan, the Associated Bank is a partner with the Take on Race Coalition, which launched the One Million Devices Now movement. The coalition’s goal was to provide students of color with the technology and internet connectivity they needed to have a successful school year and bridge the digital divide, according to the Take on Race website.
“The pandemic didn’t start the digital divide, but it did amplify it,” Reed said, adding that if a person doesn’t have access to technology, it can limit their education, their work, their access to information, their safety and health and more.
With Digital Bridge, Associated Bank is able to support the Take on Race Coalition’s mission and help the community.
“We wanted to focus on what we could do within our footprint,” Reed said.
People are essentially getting brand new laptops, Reed said, and having access to technology is access to information; it gives people the freedom to search.
In addition to refurbishing and distributing electronic products, Digital Bridge offers trainings to help people learn how to use their new technology and provides information on internet options for low-income households.
“Everyone in Milwaukee should have access to technology and internet,” Hanson said.