Rocket Mortgage Classic bridging Detroit’s digital divide
Through Connect 313 Fund, Emergency Broadband Benefit 313 and more, this week’s event is making a year-round impact on residents who need connectivity most
July 01, 2021
By Doug Milne , PGATOUR.COM
- July 01, 2021
- The Rocket Mortgage Classic continues its multi-year commitment to its Changing the Course initiative. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
In this digital day and age, it’s often argued that the most effective way to get people connecting with one another is, simply, to disconnect. For too many in Detroit, though, that has never been a problem.
And, that is precisely the problem.
Hard to imagine, perhaps, but more than 250,000 of Detroit’s most financially-strapped residents continue to live without basic internet service and/or the technology to even make connectivity a possibility.
With most every action, education and piece of information reliant in some way on the internet these days, that’s a commodity virtually impossible to effectively live without.
Ranked as the least-connected major city in the United States, nearly 40 percent of all Detroit households struggle with little-to-no web options. Additional statistics paint an even more disturbing picture. Currently, 40 percent of Detroit families have no cellular data plan, 30 percent have no access to the internet at home, and the only way 22 percent of Detroit families can get internet access is through a cell phone.
In an effort to help eliminate Detroit’s digital divide, the Rocket Mortgage Classic continues its multi-year commitment to its Changing the Course initiative. To help bring it to fruition, the City of Detroit, along with private and non-profit organizations, established the initiative’s main funding mechanism, the Connect 313 Fund.
In 2020, the Rocket Mortgage Classic raised $2.4 million for Changing the Course, the bulk of which went directly to the Connect 313 Fund.
The Connect 313 Fund’s four-part strategy begins with collecting neighborhood-level data on technology and internet access. In other words, it’s to understand the size and scope of what’s at stake.
From there, they coordinate fundraising and advocacy for systemic change with regard to digital inclusion, support neighborhood technology hubs to grow tech resources and empower residents to become digital literacy ambassadors.
The Connect 313 Fund was developed in advance of last year’s tournament by the Rocket Mortgage Classic in partnership with the City of Detroit and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan – with additional engagement from community, philanthropic and business stakeholders.
“I am encouraged that proceeds from the Rocket Mortgage Classic will help create connectivity hubs across the city of Detroit,” said Dr. Darienne Hudson, president and CEO of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “The ‘Connect 313 Fund’ is a collaborative effort that is vitally important for every family, business and organization – making technology more accessible to children, families and communities. This has the potential to serve as a role model for what can be done by public/private partnerships in other areas where technology access gaps exist.”
“The Connect 313 Fund will allow us to realize the dream – laid out by our ‘Connect 313’ program – of making Detroit a national model for digital inclusion,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “By striving to provide all Detroiters with access to the digital world, technology and digital literacy, we can ensure they will also have access to the opportunity it brings.”
In addition to coordinating a city-wide, data-driven digital inclusion strategy, the Connect 313 Fund will make investments into Detroit-based non-profit partners to increase access to technology, internet and related resources.
Proceeds from the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic will be used to financially support the Connect 313 Fund, in support of the tournament’s Changing the Course initiative.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly magnified the digital divide, the reality is that one in nearly three Detroit families have lacked access to internet and digital resources for decades. It’s important to our entire organization, and our founder and chairman Dan Gilbert, that the Rocket Mortgage Classic serves as a driver of lasting change,” said Jay Farner, CEO of Rocket Mortgage. “The Connect 313 Fund, alongside other primary beneficiaries, will allow us to address long-lasting gaps in access to healthcare, education and employment, which are a consequence of the underlying lack of digital connectivity.”
In addition, Emergency Broadband Benefit 313 (EBB 313), which grew out of the Connect 313 Fund, is a federal program designed to assist with the cost of internet and technological devices for eligible households. What that translates to is a monthly $50 discount for internet access and a one-time $100 subsidy toward a desktop, laptop or tablet for eligible residents.
As somewhat of a case-in-point, the application process requires internet access. That stymies many of those most in need of these services.
Rather than miss out on the opportunity, though, residents can visit a non-profit partner for application help on the federal EBB portal and even selecting an internet service provider. Current providing partners include AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, Verizon, human-I-T and the Detroit Community Technology Project.
“When I'm talking to residents, I hear both concerns and appreciative remarks for the work done thus far,” said Joshua D. Edmonds, Director of Digital Inclusion, City of Detroit, Department of Innovation and Technology. “Historically, we as a nation, have left our communities to fend for themselves when it comes to consumer technology. How internet providers have treated and continue to treat our most vulnerable residents is shameful.
“My role illuminates the desire to course-correct that narrative by prioritizing connecting residents to technology (internet, computers, technical support) that works best for them. Through our larger collaborative effort within the Connect 313 Fund, we have a growing list of a few hundred organizations and residents all making the pledge to bridge Detroit's digital divide. This impact is leading to the cultivation of one of the most important ingredients for this work -- trust. If we can continue to cultivate, maintain and bolster trust from the broader community, the digital divide becomes beatable.”
One of the most fun and effective ways the Rocket Mortgage Classic raises money for the Connect 313 Fund is via the AREA 313 Challenge on holes 14-16 (pars 5, 3 and 4, respectively). If a player can post a 3-1-3 cumulatively over the course of the four competitive rounds, the Rocket Mortgage Classic will donate $313,000 in that player’s name to Changing the Course. That trifecta isn’t the only way funds are raised through the AREA 313 Challenge. Eagles and birdies at Nos. 14 and 16, respectively, net $5,000, while aces at the par-3 15th are good for $25,000 donations.
Last year, thanks to 15 eagles made on the 14th hole and 63 birdies made on No. 16, Rocket Mortgage’s donation in support of Changing the Course totaled $385,000.
The digital divides in places like Detroit are, sadly, not uncommon. A lack of means to afford basic tech resources continues to impact a large representation of the U.S. population. Kids fall behind in school, parents cannot seek employment or even get information and access to medicine.
Thanks to the support of the Rocket Mortgage Classic each year, that divide in Detroit is growing smaller every day, one connected line at a time.
“Our overriding mission has been, and always will be, to use this event as a way to affect positive change in the city of Detroit,” said Jason Langwell, the Rocket Mortgage Classic’s Executive Director. “We’re confident that we will be able to do that for several years to come, thanks to some creative new activations we developed to support the cause. We are looking forward to a terrific tournament week and an impactful one, as well.”