By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Leaders at Rocket Mortgage are working to end the digital divide in Detroit where it is estimated that one-quarter of residents do not have internet access.
That number is down from nearly 40% in 2016, according to Dana Afana at Detroit Free Press, but those working on the issue say there is still a long way to go especially considering how important the internet is post-2020.
The Changing the Course initiative was established in that year to end the digital divide in Detroit, where Rocket Mortgage is located. Money raised from The Rocket Mortgage Classic, which made history in 2019 as the first PGA TOUR ever held in the city, supports the campaign.
The tour raised $1.35 million for nonprofits in 2021 and $805,000 of these funds were directed to support the initiative, according to a press release.
Laura Grannemann, Vice President of the Rocket Community Fund and a Rocket Giving Fund board member said in a statement that this is an incredible platform to increase digital inclusion for Detroit residents in every neighborhood.
“Our Changing the Course initiative is driving real change, and we are committed to building on this momentum at this year’s event,” Grannemann said.
Jay Farner, CEO of Rocket Companies and Chairman of the Rocket Giving Fund said it is their passion to use the Rocket Giving Fund as a force for change and an opportunity to bridge Detroit’s digital divide.
“The success of Changing the Course is measured by the number of Detroit families who are now able to access the internet as well as the brighter future digital inclusion provides. While we’ve already seen a near 70 percent improvement in the number of Detroiters with access to digital tools, we are driven even harder by this success to make an even greater impact through the 2022 event and beyond,” Farner said.
Joshua Edmonds, Director of Digital Inclusion for the City of Detroit, spoke with The Mortgage Note about their challenges and the impact of the work that is being done there.
Edmonds explained that Detroit is over 140 square miles and there are issues from both an urban and rural perspective.
“You have neighborhoods deep east side, deep west side, where there’s one or two houses and just empty blocks. And those houses, internet providers don’t want to go there. They don’t want to lay fiber to two houses. The private investment just isn’t there,” Edmonds said.
Edmonds referred to a 45-day internet outage in the west end neighborhood Hope Village, where about 5,700 people lost their connection during the pandemic.
City officials announced last week that the neighborhood has been selected as the area where they will start to roll out their plan to develop fiberoptic internet infrastructure, according to Nick Manes at Crain’s Detroit Business.
“I don’t think people, sometimes, look at the infrastructure challenges as much in big cities, because of the rural folks not having that infrastructure either, but I would say for our city, we have either, the infrastructure prices are very high, or people can’t afford it because again, Detroit also has a 30% poverty rate,” Edmonds said.
So even if the infrastructure is there, affordability is an issue.
“In these highly impoverished areas, a lot of times, the incumbent provider might only have DSL. They might have copper. They won’t even have something that is a good internet product to begin with,” Edmonds said.
Edmonds said they realize that people who have not had access to the internet need support. When they distributed 51,000 computers to public school students, within six months there were 35,000 texts or calls made.
“We’re recognizing it is an ongoing thing. And that computers break. People have internet one day and they won’t the next,” Edmonds said.
Edmonds said that Rocket Mortgage has been a fantastic partner along the way, leveraging their brand to bring awareness to the issue and bringing their values to the table.
Last month, it was announced that The Rocket Mortgage Classic will add Detroit Community Days on the Tuesday and Wednesday of tournament week so people can join in on the fun.
All local fans will receive complimentary admission and parking on July 26 for the AREA 313 Celebrity Scramble and the Youth Golf Clinic presented by The Children’s Foundation, as well as on July 27 for the Delta Dental Pro-Am at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
On Thursday, July 28, golf fans will have the opportunity to watch the pros up close before the 72-hole tournament begins. Each PGA TOUR pro is matched up with four amateur golfers in a relaxed atmosphere.
Galleries are smaller so spectators can get better views of their favorite players than on any other day during tournament week, according to the release.
Previous participants have included PGA TOUR pros Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Harold Varner III and Bubba Watson, as well as celebrities Justin Abdelkader, Maurice Allen, Jerome Bettis, Larry Fitzgerald, Jimmy Howard, Tom Izzo, Dylan Larkin, Troy Mullins, Blair O’Neal, Barry Sanders and Lexi Thompson.
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