My daughter was indirectly the inspiration for the CODA (Capital One Digital Access) program. Two years ago when she was in fifth grade, her school put much of her education online. She had to do her homework in Google Docs and even switched to virtual testimonials. I had funded affordable residential real estate for nearly 20 years, and I knew that many of the residents of the buildings we funded would struggle to make this transition simply because they were on the wrong side of the digital divide.
The obstacles facing the digital divide are not just limited to education. So much of what we do these days is done electronically, whether it be checking medical records, doing a job search, paying bills, or just keeping up with family and friends. When people are excluded from the digital world, both economic opportunities and health can suffer. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these inequalities.
I realized that by harnessing the critical mass of residents in the communities we funded, we could potentially bridge the digital divide – but I wasn't sure how to go about it. Fortunately, I discovered a number of programs and publications that provided a blueprint. The first was "Closing the digital divide”By Jordana Barton, a senior advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, who looked at the issue from the perspective of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). For Barton and other experts, broadband access, computer access, and training and technical assistance were the "three legs of the stool" required for a functioning digital citizenry. With just one or even two of these legs, the chair would collapse and the gap would remain. These conclusions are confirmed by HUDs ConnectHome Program, a public-private collaboration to narrow the digital divide for residents of HUD-assisted homes.
Adapting the solution to the residents and property
The challenge was to find a way to apply the lessons of the Fed's analysis and the HUD's efforts to HUD-supported residential communities. After delving further, I formulated a plan that was enthusiastically adopted by the leadership of Capital One's Community Finance and Community Impact & Investing teams. I looked across the company for experts who could help me secure each of the three legs of the stool. Ultimately, I assembled and led a group of around 20 Capital One employees, each of whom provided valuable perspectives and expertise. For example, one of my colleagues, a design thinking specialist, conducted our efforts to interview residents so we could better understand their needs.
Experts from our technology group helped us explore opportunities to partner with Internet service providers. One of the difficulties we had to overcome was reaching the right person. What we wanted to achieve – the creation of a business account for the provision of household services – crossed organizational boundaries.
Even when we identified the right contact, it quickly became apparent that there was no single way to provide broadband services. This depended on the local providers, the type and scope of their networks and the physical properties of the buildings. We selected three properties in the Bronx to prototype as the necessary wiring to each apartment was already in place. The best solution under these circumstances was to buy in bulk from an established local supplier.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, we expanded our roll-out to eight additional communities in the Washington, DC area, Los Angeles area, Seattle, Washington, and New Orleans and Houma, Louisiana. In some communities we were using a vendor's existing affordable internet program, in others we installed the type of mesh network hotels use, and in a third group we used vendor tablets with built-in WiFi.
We explored a number of device options, but ultimately chose to negotiate a bulk price for Chromebooks for communities that don't rely on tablets.
The third leg of the chair, education, was most directly affected by the pandemic. Our education provider EveryoneOn – the nonprofit responsible for implementing ConnectHome – originally intended to offer in-person on-site training, but social distancing required a shift in gear. After consulting with residents and assessing their needs, the group recently launched a virtual education program for Bronx communities as part of the pilot project. While we wait to evaluate the effectiveness of this effort, we've connected residents of our other eight locations to free online resources offered by other Capital One partners.
Focus on resilience
After we launched the program, we shifted our focus to making sure it was scalable and sustainable. CODA and digital access are part of Capital One's Impact Initiative. a commitment of $ 200 million We recently announced that this will help fill gaps in equity and opportunity in underserved communities. They also fit into our wider one Corporate social responsibility workSo we really have this work embedded in our DNA.
We hired a third party company to evaluate the program's effectiveness in the New York and Washington, DC communities in which we work together and provide guidance on how we can make digital access to additional communities more efficient.
We started this journey long before the pandemic that accelerated the movement of our online lives, but even two years ago it was clear that we were on the wrong side of the digital divide. We hope that the digital access we offer our communities will provide the level of resilience that residents need and that it will improve their ability to search for and seize opportunities.