How UB is helping "reimagine" the digital divide

Virtual Vic.

Published June 16, 2021

A statewide commission has been working for the past year to reduce the digital divide and increase opportunity for New Yorkers. The University at Buffalo has played an important role in these efforts, and the positive impact will be felt right here in Buffalo.

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The Reimagine New York Commission, formed in April 2020, sought to align public and private interests in service of reducing digital inequities in three pivotal areas: connectivity, telehealth and work. President Tripathi was chosen to join the commission alongside Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, the Executive Chair of IBM, and others.

UB is uniquely positioned to support this kind of commission, in part because we understand the extent to which the digital divide—the “gap between those able to benefit from the digital age and those who are not”—directly affects our community. 

When UBIT surveyed over 2,200 UB students in April 2021, over 10% told us their internet was inadequate for remote learning. In a pandemic, when distancing through remote work and learning is a key tool in flattening the curve and ensuring the safety of our students and employees, it is unacceptable that so many of us should fall behind due to lack of access.

That’s why I’m proud to have supported President Tripathi’s work on this commission. I’m also proud to report that, while there is still work to be done, we’ve made some remarkable strides in the past year.

new Broadband Program Office has been established to manage and promote efforts statewide to bring better access to New Yorkers. One such effort was signed into law in April, requiring internet service providers to offer high-speed broadband at a reduced rate of $15 per month to low-income New Yorkers. 

UB is also part of innovative efforts to reduce the digital divide directly here in Buffalo: UB researchers, in partnership with local non-profit Mission: Ignite, were recently awarded $300,000 in federal funds to expand internet access in underserved communities.

This project will expand high-speed access in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt community—where 70% of households are considered “low connectivity”—by taking advantage of a newly available part of the wireless spectrum. I’m proud of UB for its pivotal role in this work, and the support that UBIT’s Network and Communication Services unit will lend to this project.

The pandemic allowed us to see more clearly how gaps in divide put young people in our communities at a disadvantage. Allowing that to continue is not just unacceptable—it’s unsustainable.

By reimagining our approach to the problem of the digital divide today, we can proudly say we have navigated the hardship and tragedy of this pandemic to produce something better for our communities, especially those of us who are most vulnerable to falling behind, going forward.

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