September 14th, 2023, marked a pivotal gathering in Dallas at the Axios luncheon conference, Building Connections Across the Divide in Texas. This event brought together key public officials, stakeholders from the Dallas Innovation Center, and AT&T’s Corporate Social Responsibility leaders. Their collective goal? To fast-track initiatives that bridge the digital divide, ensuring all Dallas residents have equitable internet access.
Bill Zielinski, the Chief Information Officer for the City of Dallas, underscored the challenges and intricacies of ensuring connectivity. He remarked, “I can’t magically make technology work. There’s a lot more behind it with collaboration between the public and private partners to develop solutions.” Zielinski has been closely working with a report from SMU, aiming to highlight areas in Dallas with glaring connectivity gaps. Although the Affordable Connectivity program has played a significant role, he emphasized, “Future funding is still in question, and we have to develop sustainable solutions.”
On a broader scale, The Honorable Clay Lewis Jenkins, Dallas County Judge, extended the conversation beyond the city’s borders to encompass the entire county. Through effective bilingual advertising campaigns, Jenkins proudly mentioned a “40-50% increase in sign-up for Affordable Connectivity.” He emphasized the importance of the initiative by stating, “Kids that attend Dallas ISD will qualify for free internet in their home.” But Jenkins also pointed to a startling concern: “Internet is a necessity like electrical, plumbing, and water in the home, but 33% of Dallas county residents aren’t taking advantage of it even though 99% have the access to connect to the internet but may not using it due to cost, reliability, or knowledge.” He further highlighted an active $120M RFP geared towards enhancing fiber connectivity for county and school infrastructures, which could subsequently boost high-speed internet accessibility for nearby residents.
Mylayna Albright from AT&T took the stage to represent the corporate sector’s perspective. As the Assistant Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, she shared AT&T’s ambitious goal: “AT&T has a goal of reaching 1 million in need of connectivity by 2025.” Celebrating the milestones, she informed the audience, “Right now, we’ve reached 565k people in several ways.”
The luncheon was a testament to the importance of collective efforts, innovative strategies, and sustainable solutions. It’s clear that bridging the digital divide in Texas requires both commitment and collaboration, and this gathering showcased just that.