By Kayla Green

According to a recent report from Roc the Future, the Rochester community has stepped up to improve the digital divide during the pandemic. The original report from April outlined technology disparities in the Rochester City School District. The updated report published this week says access is now a lot better.

Stephanie Townsend is the director of research and analytics at Roc the Future. She said the pandemic brought the digital divide in Rochester to a head.

“It took what has been an ongoing issue and really brought it to the forefront,” Townsend said.

According to the report, 80% of Rochester residents have some kind of internet access. However, she said for a large percentage of them that means cellular service on a smartphone. Townsend said this isn’t enough when school is completely online. The report says if you remove the families who have only a cellular plan, that means 40% of Rochester families don’t have adequate access to online education.

When she first published the report in April, only RCSD students in grades 9-12 were given to a Chromebook and WiFi device. For this upcoming school year, all students will be given these devices.

“Considering the fact that there are over 25,000 students in the Rochester City School District this really is a pretty monumental achievement by the entire community.”

While she said this progress is incredible, access is only the beginning. Making sure families know how to use the programs is the next step. The Rochester Public Library is helping to provide workshops and training to families who need it.

“Then we get to the issue of do you have the necessary skills to make full use? This is something that’s often referred to as digital literacy. It involves not only knowing how to use the program but also how to critically evaluate what you’re seeing, how to know where to go, how to access reliable services and resources.”

She said another huge step to fix this problem for good is to make internet access more affordable to everyone in New York state regardless of where you live. She said it should be treated more like an essential utility than a luxury.

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