For over 230 years, New York state has been a national hub for financial, cultural and political activity. No question about it – this success is powered by the people that live here. Famously resilient and independent, with a sometimes-worrisome sense of urgency, New Yorkers have long had the power to inspire the world.
But sustaining this impact for future generations depends on the people living, working and operating in the state today. As AT&T President of the Atlantic Region – I’m committed to keeping New Yorkers connected and future-proofing their skillsets for an increasingly digital world.
Today, the most significant barriers to internet adoption are the cost of service, the lack of large screen devices, such as a computer, or the absence of digital literacy skills that can leave people reluctant to use the internet (or all three). For the unconnected, these barriers are more than a temporary inconvenience. But when we work together to alleviate some of these obstacles, the door is flung open to new possibilities such as educational and career opportunities, access to telehealth services and much more.
Over the past year, AT&T has collaborated with local leaders and community organizations to help New Yorkers – from Buffalo to Long Island – gain access to these possibilities. As we begin to set goals for the new year, I think it’s worth looking back on the work that’s been done and the people whose lives have been improved because of it.
Extending Connections and Devices Across New York
Both the private and public sector have recognized that many Americans face difficulties in paying for monthly internet service costs. It’s what drove the federal government to create the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
- Did you know? For eligible households, the $30/mo. ACP benefit can be applied to AT&T’s internet or wireless service bills to lower the cost of monthly internet.
- The White House estimates as many as 48 million Americans are eligible for the ACP program.1
Given the ACP’s potential to turn internet access into a reality for millions, raising awareness and getting people signed up is key. To help spread the word, we collaborated with The STEM Alliance of Westchester New York to develop an ACP navigator program. The program will help hundreds of community members across Westchester County navigate the ACP signup process and get the financial support they need to pay for internet service, while also providing digital literacy resources.
In addition to raising awareness of the ACP, we also saw how impactful we can be in bringing connections directly to those that are unable to access the internet at home. For our students in particular, gaining a connection can take their educational experience to a whole other level.
We continued our work with New York state to support its ConnectED NY program by helping provide students across New York school districts with free mobile hotspots.
- The ConnectED NY program serves 50,000 students across 210 New York state school districts, enabling them to get schoolwork done outside of the classroom and stay ahead in classes so they are in the best position possible to thrive in the digital world ahead of them.
In addition, AT&T collaborated with Connected Nation to provide students across the state with more than 3,500 free hotspots and over a year of free internet access to help them with virtual learning.
While helping make internet service more affordable has a substantial impact, it’s not the only cost that gets in the way of people accessing the internet. The cost of computers can also limit households from getting online and tapping into opportunities.
As part of our commitment to distribute 4,000 computers across the five boroughs of New York City by 2024, we’ve earmarked 2,500 for vulnerable students in New York City Department of Social Services’ homeless shelters. Thanks to this collaboration with New York City Mayor Adams, Digitunity, Human IT, and the Electronic Access Foundation, these students will have their own computers for furthering their education, learning new skills and hobbies, and getting ready for the future ahead of them.
We didn’t stop there – we also contributed 2,000 computers to underrepresented students and families in Buffalo, NY in collaboration with Digitunity and Mission Ignite as part of the same commitment.
Providing Access, Devices and Skills Building in One Place
Because of the number of lives it could touch, one solution stands out in my opinion – the opening of the state-of-the-art AT&T Digital Learning Labs in Rochester, Buffalo, Capital Region and Westchester County.
AT&T created the New York Digital Learning Lab initiative to help provide connectivity and access to computers, and other technology in digital deserts across the state. In 2022, the company launched four new Labs across the state in collaboration with regional Urban Leagues, educational non-profits, and Boys & Girls Clubs to help ensure some of the state’s most vulnerable students and families have access to computers, internet, and digital support at afterschool programs and on weekends. These learning labs provide a single space within communities where students can access the internet, devices and mentoring resources to gain the skills that will enable them to make the most of their online experience.
AT&T contributed over 25 computers and tablets and fitted each lab with printers, 3D printers, and digital literacy resources for students to utilize when they visit. The Digital Learning Labs are so far benefiting hundreds in the underserved communities they are located in:
- 2,000 students and families in Rochester
- 2,000 students and families across WestchesterCounty
- 3,000 students and families in Buffalo
- 2,500 students and families across the Capital Region
Importance of Digital Literacy
Making resources available is vital, but if you don’t have the knowledge to utilize a resource it doesn’t matter how accessible it is to someone. That’s why AT&T is empowering communities by focusing not only on access to affordable high-quality connectivity, but also the skills and community resources that enable everyone to thrive in this new age of connectivity. Across the Empire State, AT&T has a longstanding history of working with underrepresented communities to provide critical digital literacy programing to help equip students and adults with digital skills that will enhance their quality of life and allow them to thrive, both in school and in their career. In 2022, we collaborated with and supported more than 20 free innovative digital literacy programs, including programs that provided New Yorkers with skills in video game development, STEM programing, introduction to digital literacy for younger students, robotics, coding, how to use devices, online safety, and e-commerce and digital marketing workshops for Black owned small businesses.
What makes these digital literacy programs that provide youth and adults of all backgrounds and economic situations so important is that digital knowledge has become the new literacy driving the development of critical global technology. With the growing demand to innovate, organizations across various industries are struggling to fill skilled positions. It’s projected that there will be 3.5 million STEM jobs in the U.S. by 20252, underscoring the importance of providing young New Yorkers with both the tools and skills necessary to compete in this innovation economy.
The Bottom Line: While we can be proud of the work that was done in the past year, we are more motivated than ever to continue this progress in the coming year. With millions of Americans still disconnected from the internet – whether due to cost or a lack of skills or resources to get online – my team remains committed to improving New York’s access, affordability and adoption of the internet.
With several projects already in motion, many New Yorkers are reflecting this holiday season on the new connections they made this year. And as they sit down to list their goals for 2023, we hope it is chock full of first-time opportunities made possible by a digital connection.