Knight Foundation Makes Technological Investment for North End Residents    

Members of the Knight Foundation install technological infrastructure in a recipient’s house for the grant, left, Rev. Joan C. Ross director of Detroit-based social justice organization North End Woodward Community Coalition, right.  

Photos courtesy of Rev. Joan C Ross


The Detroit Equitable Internet Initiative (EII), a wireless-based Internet provider, recently received a huge technological boost from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to assist in their mission to help the local community stay digitally connected to the world.  

In late October on Internet Day, October 29, the non-profit organization received an investment of $750,000 (over the span of three years) to provide North End neighborhoods with free high-speed connection for employment opportunities, education, health care, news and information, among other things.  

With countless Detroiters – among others around the nation – still without proper internet connection – EII is making its mark for hundreds of families in Detroit’s historically underserved, predominantly African American North End and nearby neighborhoods. 

The Knight Foundation partnered with EII to impact the digital divide in the city, which is described as one of the least connected cities in the U.S.  

Joan Ross, director of Detroit-based social justice organization North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC), told the Michigan Chronicle that NEWCC helps oversee the Ell initiatives that implement technological advances to an area that greatly needs it.  

The Knight investment will add more wireless technology allowing free high-speed internet to be beamed to 215 homes in the North End and nearby neighborhoods, where more than 40 percent of households have no high-speed internet.  

“It’s unacceptable that so many North End residents are missing out on critical lifelines because they don’t have access to high-speed internet,” said Nate Wallace, Knight’s Detroit program director. “This disparity was exacerbated during the pandemic lockdown when high-speed internet became even more critical to daily life.”   

Ross told the Michigan Chronicle that NEWCC makes technological access a priority and others are taking notice, too.  

“We were interviewed by the White House and [Vice President Kamala] Harris around digital justice,” Ross said, adding that broader internet access is key and adds a “quality of life for our community and workforce.”  

Ross added that Ell began six years ago as a project, which stemmed from Detroit Community Technology.  

“They approached three organizations in the city … and everybody began to recognize the importance of being digitally inclusive,” Ross said, adding that many already know that pre-pandemic levels of technology access were limited but it was far worse than people thought and the North End took an “aggressive approach” to make things right.  

Katie Hearn, executive director of the Detroit Community Technology Project, and Janice Gates, director of Ell, also played a vital role in the collaborative process of this technological initiative.  

Hearn said that the spotlight should be “duly placed” on Ross and her team who are “stewarding this good work [and this grant] in the North End and beyond.”  

Knight’s investment will support the training of 18 community members as “digital stewards.” They will be taught the engineering skills to set up neighborhood-governed networks and serve as local tech support.   

The goal is to connect 1,000 North End households in three years. The estimated yearly operations and maintenance costs to serve 1,000 households is currently $30 per household per month, one-third of what major providers charge, according to a press release. EII will pilot low-cost and tiered-payment models to begin establishing a self-sustaining model.   

The EII is a collaboration of multiple organizations, including NEWCC, whose operating director, the Rev. Joan Ross, was invited to participate in a White House listening session about the digital divide in May. After Rev. Ross highlighted the work of the EII, Vice President Kamala Harris shared her enthusiasm for the project. “We need to scale up what you’re doing!” Vice President Harris said.   

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