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Today, Danilo Campos is a successful programmer in New York City. He previously served as the technical lead for Github, one of the rising giants in Silicon Valley and currently the largest open source web development platform in the world.

His story began in New York City at 2 years old. He grew up in public housing with a single immigrant mother. So how did he go from living in public housing to working at some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent companies? He cites one life-changing reason: When he was 8 years old, his mother scrimped and saved so that they could have internet in their apartment. With that, he taught himself to code and got himself to where he is today.

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Campos represents the happy ending needed for over 60 million people in America who live on the wrong side of the digital divide, but don’t have to. These people span both urban and rural areas. The divide cuts across all demographics and geographies, but has a strong hold among minority and low-income populations. These are the 60 million people who cannot access the indispensable parts of American life that have migrated online, like education and employment. They are also the potential consumers that our digital economy cannot reach. To measure the impact of the digital divide:

  • Students are 7 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma and college when connected to the internet at home and will earn over $2 million more over their lifetimes.
  • An unemployed person who has the internet at home will be employed seven weeks faster than one who does not and will earn more than $5,000 in additional income annually, according to our analysis of 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • According to Deloitte, every day that a person is not connected to the internet, America loses $2.16 of potential economic activity, which means that the digital divide currently costs our country over $130 million a day in economic activity.

At EveryoneOn, we believe that by connecting people to the internet, we create better social and economic opportunity for all. Since 2012, we have connected over 500,000 people in 48 states and have a goal of connecting 1 million people by the end of 2020. Our model for connecting people — founded on the belief that internet is necessary, but insufficient — has three parts.

First, we work with internet service providers to create and refine low-cost offers. Second, we create easy access to low-cost offers, devices, and digital literacy training — people can sign up via text, by calling our offices, or visiting our website. Finally, we ​interact with people in everyday places and have a network of partners across the country doing the same work.

Doing this work and interacting with people on the wrong side of the digital divide, we have learned a few lessons:

Cost is king: According to research, the main barrier to families getting online is cost. We work to help bring offers on the market that are usually priced at $10-$15/month.

Process is paramount: While there have been improvements over the years, accessing affordable Internet options is far more cumbersome and difficult than it has it to be. We still force low-income people to fill out multiple applications and speak to multiple people just to get a $10/month Internet connection. It takes trusted community actors to reach families where they are and bring them across this digital divide.

Connectivity is the journey, not the destination:​ One thing that we have seen is that very few of the people we connected are interested in the internet for its own sake. The internet is a means to an end that is different for everyone. These ends must be understood if we are to be successful.

In order to truly close the digital divide, various stakeholders have to play different roles.

Those companies for which universal connectivity would enhance their business model should direct their dollars and their research towards getting more people online.  Partners of ours like Facebook and Google have invested here because it makes economic sense for their firms — not out of a sense of charity.

Internet service providers should create low-cost internet offers if they do not have them already, and make them even more accessible. Partners of ours like Cox Communications, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Charter have begun that work. But there is much more to do.

Through our Digital Equity Champion initiative (DEC), we have begun talks with the government of Rhode Island and their housing agency to ensure that, whenever a resident enrolls for housing benefits or recertifies their eligibility, they will also be asked if they would like to sign up for internet service. More local and state government should replicate these efforts.

Lastly, we at EveryoneOn believe that each of us as citizens needs to raise our voice to our federal government to protect the Lifeline program. A Reagan-era program, Lifeline provides subsidized or free internet to over 40 million people. Any infrastructure bill that is enacted into law should also invest real dollars into the deployment of broadband infrastructure to the unconnected parts of this nation.

Somewhere in the United States, there are many young men and women who could be the next Sheryl Sandberg or Tim Cook. We must not let the lack of an internet connection stand in the way of finding them.

Chike Aguh serves as the CEO of EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit dedicated to closing the digital divide that, to date, has connected over 500,000 low-income Americans in 48 states to the internet. It aims to connect 1 million by the end of 2020. Previously, he worked as an education policy official under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a 2nd grade teacher and Teach For America corps member, a Fulbright Scholar in Thailand, and a director of corporate strategy at the Advisory Board Company.

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