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Greater Washington Partnership Blueprint Report

PILLAR 05
Infrastructure High-Performing and Accessible Transportation & Digital Infrastructure

In 2018, the Partnership published the Capital Region’s Blueprint for Regional Mobility which lays out a plan to connect the super-region, improve the consumer experience, ensure equitable access, and integrate innovation in our regional transportation system. The transportation solutions in this pillar sharpen our focus to ensure we prioritize solutions that can create a more prosperous, equitable, and resilient region for people of all backgrounds and incomes, and particularly for those facing the greatest barriers

Transportation and digital infrastructure enable our region to connect through work, school, and play. Widespread accessibility to high-performing infrastructure is an economic imperative and is critical to achieving inclusive growth.

Unfortunately, access to such infrastructure is not equal across the Capital Region. Black, Hispanic, and low-income households in the Capital Region are more likely to have longer commute times and worse access to high-performing transit options, while also being less likely to have access to a car or broadband internet.

Black residents in the Capital Region are almost 3x as likely as white residents to live in areas with poor transit accessibility to jobs and low vehicle ownership. Households in poverty are almost 2.5x more likely to live in areas with poor transit access to jobs227

Inequitable access to transportation infrastructure can affect commute times, especially for those who work outside of traditional 9-to-5 weekday schedules. Even within the same city, a trip across town on public transportation can cost a rider several hours depending on the time of day.228 These inequities in access shape what work and educational opportunities are available to residents and disproportionately impact Black, Hispanic, and low-income communities.

Longer commute times reduce the jobs, housing, and services that can be accessed for residents, and impact employers’ ability to recruit and retain a productive workforce.

Connectivity does not encompass transportation alone – it also includes digital infrastructure. Reliable household-level internet connection is a necessary utility to generate income, buy products and services, engage in education, and obtain real-time information. In crisis situations like the COVID-19 pandemic or climate disasters, reliable digital connectivity is imperative for sustaining livelihoods and participating in society.

Yet, despite its critical relevance, reliable and affordable broadband is not currently available to all. Many in rural areas or communities of color lack this digital infrastructure, which in turn reduces education opportunities for students and work prospects for job seekers, and excludes communities from information channels, voting opportunities, and health care services.

Digital access and proximity to accessible transportation are two sides of the same coin: participation in the modern economy typically requires both, and those with better access tend to have better outcomes. Investing in the expansion of digital and transportation infrastructure for excluded populations will enable more individuals to access and maintain income-generating opportunities, connect to digital learning opportunities, provide for their families, and participate in the economy.

The following section outlines solutions and proposed recommendations to reduce inequities across transportation and digital access, thereby creating a more inclusive and productive economy.

Solutions
Infrastructure
High-Performing and Accessible Transportation & Digital Infrastructure
  • Enhance access to high-quality public transit
    Solution 1 Enhance access to high-quality public transit Invest in high-performing and affordable public transportation to reduce the time and cost to access opportunity.

    Despite traffic, residents across the Capital Region who drive a private vehicle have faster and easier access, on average, to jobs and recreational activities. However, Black, Hispanic, and low-income households are less likely to have access to a private vehicle.227 Improving the reliability, affordability, and destinations accessible by public transit are key strategies and tools to help close race- and income-based inequities in physical access to opportunity, while also improving quality of life.

    High-quality public transit will increase regional economic performance, expand access to diverse labor pools for businesses, drive transit-oriented development, and reduce congestion and air pollution. The region already has a strong backbone of transit service, from an expansive Metrorail and Metrobus system in Washington, Greater Baltimore’s subway, light rail, and bus network, and the growing local bus and Bus Rapid Transit system in the Richmond area, not to mention the 30+ other providers of transit, commuter, and intercity rail services that connect the region.

    However, even with that strong backbone, the existing transit networks do not meet the needs of our growing region or provide enough of the high-quality, reliable service that can narrow gaps in transportation inequities. Recommendations to enhance the region’s public transit systems and provide better transportation for all include:

    • Calling for the expansion of frequent, all-day transit service, especially for transit-dependent communities
    • Providing discounted or free transit passes to all employees, especially lower-wage employees, and support equitable fare strategies for transit operations
    • Incentivizing inclusive transit-oriented development (TOD) at transit stations, including local hiring provisions for construction

    Recommendations

    Recommendation 1 Frequent, All Day Transit Call for the expansion of frequent, all-day transit service, especially for transit-dependent communities

    Transit agencies have historically provided high-quality, frequent transit service during traditional peak weekday commute hours, while midday, late-night, or weekend transit service is typically less frequent or nonexistent. This results in many employees not choosing transit because service is not available or reliable when they need it. On the other hand, many riders do not have a choice and rely on transit to move about the region. Reliable and frequent transit is an essential service and can benefit everyone, from front-line employees working an early morning shift, to a working parent who must return home midday to care for a child, to a technician working the Saturday overnight shift.229

    Expected Impacts

    • Community: Transit-dependent riders, who are more likely to be low income, will have improved access to jobs and services regardless of the time of day or day of week. This will reduce inequities in transportation access between transit riders and drivers of private vehicles, creating a more equitable transportation system and encouraging more residents to choose transit

    • Private
      Sector:
      Businesses will increase the share of employees who commute by transit, expand access to a broader and diverse labor pool, and reduce parking costs. Constructing a new parking structure was estimated to cost $25,700 per space in 2021230

    Efforts in Progress

    • Partnership Bright Spot: In 2022, the Partnership and the Greater Baltimore Committee will launch Greater Baltimore’s Transit Future campaign to call for a regional strategy to improve transit, including more frequent service for Greater Baltimore. The Partnership is also a founding member of the MetroNow
      Coalition in the DC metro area, a leading voice for enhanced transit, and has studied impacts of a new bus

      rapid

      transit

      line
      in the Richmond metro alongside local partners

    • Regional Bright Spots: MDOT MTA, GRTC, DASH, and WMATA have begun to shift service models toward more frequent, all-day transit service that better serves the needs of transit-dependent ridersBB

      Dominion

      Energy

      is

      partnering

      with

      Fairfax

      County
      and several partners to test a driverless “first and last-mile” public transportation option to evaluate its effectiveness, safety, and ability to connect the community to the wider transit network

    Implementation Considerations

    • Travel patterns and behavior shifted during the COVID pandemic. Post-pandemic, the levels of remote, hybrid, and flexible work hours in the Capital Region will likely remain elevated, reducing demand in the traditional morning and peak hours231

    • Spreading service more evenly throughout the day can save money by reducing AM-PM split shifts for operators; however, more frequent late-night and weekend options will demand higher overall operating costs

    • Targeted bus priority treatments, including dedicated bus lanes, can reduce travel times and increase reliability for bus riders, especially on routes traveling through congested corridors that serve transit-dependent communities

    Recommendation 2 Transit Benefits and Equitable Transit Fares Provide discounted or free transit passes to all employees, especially lower-wage employees, and support equitable fare strategies for transit operations

    Low-income residents around the Capital Region are more likely to rely on transit to access work, school, and services, yet they are less likely to have access to work-based transportation benefits.232 This means that many low-income residents must pay full price for each transit trip, which can cut significantly into their take-home pay. Many companies provide tax-free or discounted transit passes for their employees, which have minimal impact on take-home pay but help to reduce congestion, parking costs, and retain talent. However, while lower-wage and part-time employees may benefit the most from discounted or free transit passes, they are least likely to receive the benefit.

    Pre-pandemic, most transit fares in Richmond were paid by low-income households , with 79% of riders from households earning less than $50k per year233

    Employers can help reduce roadway congestion, improve transportation equity, and expand and retain their labor pool by broadening the number and type of employees with access to discounted transit passes (especially lower wage and part-time employees), supporting subcontractors in offering transit benefits, and encouraging the public sector to adopt equitable transit fare strategies, such as fare capping, income-targeted fare discounts, or zero-fares for select communities.

    Expected Impacts

    • Community: Low-income residents’ transportation cost-burden will be lowered, freeing more of their income for other uses, while also increasing transit ridership, reducing roadway congestion, and expanding access to jobs and opportunities. For each dollar that a low-income household must spend on transit, that household has one less dollar to spend on food, healthcare, education, or recreation, which can hinder their quality of life234

      Free or Zero Fares for transit rides eliminate fare collection costs for transit agencies and grow ridership, which increases an agency‘s share of federal formula funding.235 For example, Alexandria’s DASH bus ridership grew 26% in the first month after a zero-fare policy and redesigned bus network were implemented236

    • Private Sector: Reduced transportation costs will expand the size, reach, and diversity of the labor pool and help employers attract and retain talent237

    Efforts in Progress

    • Partnership Bright Spot: The Partnership is supporting public and private partners in the Richmond metro to develop a long-term equitable fare strategy to maintain zero-fare operations for the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC)

    • Regional Bright Spots: Capital Region transit agencies experimented with
      zero-fare
      transit
      operations
      during the pandemic, supported by Federal COVID-relief money,
      and several have maintained zero-fare transit operations because the
      experiments showed that removing fare collection speeds the boarding
      process, eliminates fare-collection costs, and improves the lives of
      riders, especially low-income riders238

      Alexandria’s new DASH Bus
      Network launched in 2021 included a zero-fare
      policy
      and
      a
      redesigned
      bus
      network which
      expanded all-day, frequent transit service. Bus ridership grew 26%
      in the first month of the zero-fare policy and new network.

      The
      City of Richmond’s Employee
      Trip Reduction Program
      provides GRTC transit swipe cards or
      vanpool vouchers to full time City of Richmond employees for their
      commute to/from work

    Implementation Considerations

    • Transit and mobility providers can work together to design a single pass and fare distribution system that allows employers to buy or subsidize one universal pass to be distributed as an easy-to-administer benefit, no matter where the employee lives in the Capital Region239

    • As transit agencies adopt new technologies to collect fares, such as mobile tickets, unbanked and underbanked individuals, and those without access to smartphones may be left behind if they are not considered in the design and implementation of equitable fare strategies240

    • Equitable fare strategies could include time-bound approaches (e.g., zero-fare weekends), rider-specific products (e.g., fare-capping or means-tested fare discounts), or geographic discounts (e.g., zero-fares along specific transit routes or stations) based on the agency’s ridership profile

    • Equitable transit fares can reduce revenue, thereby reducing an agency’s ability to provide high-quality transit service unless transit agencies can secure reliable alternative revenue from the public sector, private philanthropy, advertising, or other sources

    Recommendation 3 Inclusive Transit Oriented Development Incent inclusive transit-oriented development (TOD) at transit stations, including local hiring provisions for construction

    For the average resident in the Capital Region, only 2% of jobs are accessible by transit compared to 28% by car.227 Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a planning and development framework to encourage vibrant, walkable, and dense communities near transit stations to maximize the benefits and return on investment of transit infrastructure. Supporting inclusive TOD can expand jobs, housing options, and commercial space near the region’s hundreds of transit stations, ensuring a more efficient use of the region’s resources, and creating more equitable access to opportunity, especially for transit-dependent residents. Business leaders can support inclusive TOD by advocating for the development of projects and policies that support more inclusive communities around the region’s transit stations, from hyperlocal discussions about specific development projects to macro regional planning efforts.

    Expected Impacts

    • Community: By unlocking inclusive development potential at only seven transit stations studied in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, the region could generate more than 25,000 new jobs and $75 million in new county tax revenues241

    • Private
      Sector:
      Inclusive TOD will expand access to jobs for minority and low-income workers, who are more likely to be transit-dependent and may struggle to access opportunities not located near transit. Across WMATA ridership, 58% are minority residents and 25% are low-income242

    Efforts in Progress

    Implementation Considerations

    • Construction and land near transit stations is often more expensive, which limits affordability. Funding and policy tools, such as affordable housing trust funds and density bonuses, can encourage more inclusive, affordable development near transit

    • Jurisdictions and the private sector should also consider ways to support existing businesses, renters, and homeowners with technical and financial support to remain in the community as property values rise

    • Local hiring provisions and community benefits agreements for TOD projects can maximize the return on investment by requiring local, family-supporting jobs for disadvantaged populations, and ensuring community-defined amenities are included in the development projects

  • Remove barriers to mobility
    Solution 2 Remove barriers to mobility Expand multimodal transportation options to ensure more options for residents to access jobs, homes, and amenities.

    For most of the 20th century, the Capital Region has prioritized roadway construction more than multimodal transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks, trails, bike lanes, bus lanes, and rail projects. Many new communities were planned exclusively around roadway infrastructure and lack other options for safe transportation. To make matters worse, last century’s roadway infrastructure was often built at the expense of Black and low-income communities, many of which were demolished or physically cut off from nearby opportunities.

    Expanding options for multimodal transportation improves the overall transportation system’s performance. More transportation options create more choices for residents and employees to move around the region, creating healthier, more dynamic, and resilient communities. To remove barriers to mobility and improve access to the region’s rich economic, cultural, and social opportunities, recommendations include:

    • Prioritizing transit-accessible worksite locations, and, for locations outside of transit networks, remove barriers through shared mobility services

    • Advocating for targeted roadway investments, the removal of physical barriers to opportunity, robust multimodal options, and sustainable transportation infrastructure

    Recommendations

    Recommendation 1 Transit Accessible Worksites & Subsidized Multimodal Access Prioritize transit-accessible worksite locations and, for locations outside of transit networks, look to remove barriers through shared mobility services

    For the average resident across the Capital Region, more jobs are accessible within 45 minutes by foot and bike than by transit, which creates challenges for accessibility during inclement weather and for those individuals with diverse abilities who cannot bike or walk to work.227 By choosing to locate new worksites near transit (e.g., when expanding or relocating), businesses can increase mobility options for their employees, expand access to the region’s diverse workforce, and help build a more inclusive region.

    Locating worksites near transit expands access to the 1-in-10 workers who take transit to work across the region, 25% of whom lack access to a car.227 Since the pandemic, almost all new office construction in 2021 in the Washington area is in WMATA Metro-accessible locations.243 Where transit- accessible worksites are not possible, businesses can subsidize multimodal access to and from their worksites, including “first and last mile” solutions such as bike- and scooter-share, as well as longer trip solutions, such as vanpool and car share services.

    Expected Impacts

    • Community: More transit-accessible worksites and subsidized multimodal access to and from work will reduce congestion and expand access to jobs for all residents

    • Private
      Sector:
      Company-provided vanpool programs can increase employee satisfaction and reduce absenteeism by providing an alternative, reliable form of commuting244

    Efforts in Progress

    • Regional Bright Spots: Major employers across the region have relocated or expanded to transit-accessible worksites to better attract talent including, Amazon, British Telecom, Capital One, Choice Hotels, CoStar, Google, ICF, Kaiser Permanente, Marriott, McCormick’s, Nestle, Pandora, Rolls-Royce North America, and the University of Maryland Medical Center

      Prince William’s OmniRide
      and Fredericksburg’s GWRideConnect encourage multimodal access through ridesharing, vanpooling services, and guaranteed ride home programs

      Capital
      Bikeshare
      in the Washington area and RVA
      Bike Share
      in Richmond offer free or discounted memberships for low-income residents

    Implementation Considerations

    • Where possible, businesses should seek transit-accessible worksites. Where transit-accessible worksites are not feasible, businesses should explore ways to subsidize alternatives to private-car transportation and coordinate with nearby employers to provide alternative ‘first and last mile’ solutions such as bike- and scooter-share, subsidies for e-bikes, and secure bike parking, as well as longer trip solutions, such as vanpool and car share services

    Recommendation 2 Seamless Multimodal Transportation Options Advocate for targeted roadway investments, the removal of physical barriers to opportunity, robust multimodal options, and sustainable transportation infrastructure

    Black, Hispanic, and low-income communities in the Capital Region bear a disproportionate share of the transportation system’s negative externalities, including pollution, noise, traffic violence, and congestion.245 Like much of the country, many of the region’s highways cut through historically Black communities and many Black, Hispanic, and low-income communities continue to be isolated from nearby opportunities as a result. Due to an overabundance of roadways and parking surfaces that absorb heat, Black and low-income neighborhoods can be 5 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter in summer than wealthier, whiter parts of the same city.246 Nonetheless, most residents across the Capital Region continue to rely on driving a private vehicle to move about the region, making roadway congestion and the lack of safe and reliable multimodal alternatives major barriers to opportunities and maintaining employment.237

    In 2018, the Partnership developed six
    performance-driven tolling principles
    that aim to remove roadway bottlenecks and use toll revenues to increase access and mobility for all residents, including those who cannot afford the tolls.247 Widespread adoption of these principles could help close gaps in transportation outcomes. Historically disinvested communities should be prioritized when deploying sustainable mobility infrastructure, including sidewalks, trails, bike lanes, ADA-accessible transit stops, and electric vehicle charging stations. Local communities should be included and empowered by the planning, design, and construction process.

    Expected Impacts

    • Community: The adoption of the Partnership’s performance-driven tolling principles will generate revenue for the entire transportation system to expand sustainable mobility infrastructure. Trails and other active transportation infrastructure can increase safety, spending with local businesses, and health outcomes for commuters.248 Sustainable mobility infrastructure will also improve air quality which can reduce rates of asthma, COPD, lung cancer, heart disease and low birthweight in impacted communities249

    • Private
      Sector:
      Reduced congestion will help businesses attract and retain a talented workforce by improving health outcomes and quality of life

    Efforts in Progress

    • Partnership
      Bright Spot:
      The Partnership
      partnered with EY and

      the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
      to study the potential impacts of completing the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network, a 25-mile network of trails that will connect many of Baltimore’s job centers and educational and cultural institutions with a diverse cross- section of more than 75 neighborhoods

    • Regional
      Bright Spots:
      The Capital Region’s three primary cities are rethinking equitable transportation infrastructure. The City of Richmond’s Path
      to Equity Policy Guide
      lays the framework for resolving problematic inequities in the City’s transportation network. The District of Columbia embedded equity as a key goal of its move

      DC

      long-range

      transportation

      plan. Baltimore City adopted a Complete

      Streets

      framework
      to elevate the priority of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users in planning and roadway design

    • Planning departments across the Capital Region are exploring ways to rectify barriers in the built environment and reconnect communities such as capping I-95 in Richmond to reconnect Jackson Ward and removing the ‘Highway to Nowhere’ in Baltimore City

    • The Transportation Planning Board at MWCOG adopted Transit Access Focus Areas (TAFAs) to prioritize areas with the greatest need for improvements to walk and bike access to transit

    Implementation Considerations

    • In alignment with the Partnership’s equitable tolling principles, “Public agencies should conduct robust and broad public engagement to develop goals, performance metrics and public benefit assessments for each tolling project, whether delivered by the public agency or by a public-private partnership”247

    • Entire generations have grown up without access to safe spaces to walk or bike in their communities. Planners, engineers, and local leaders must acknowledge and grapple with the history of trauma and disinvestment associated with our transportation infrastructure throughout the course of a project, from initial community engagement through design and construction.

    • Many residents have also experienced personal harassment, violence, or discriminatory over-policing while moving—driving, walking, or biking—so community safety must be incorporated into the design, maintenance, and operations of the infrastructure

  • Increase digital connectivity
    Solution 3 Increase digital connectivity Invest in affordable, high-quality, and accessible broadband infrastructure for overlooked communities

    Digital connectivity is the backbone of much of our economy and society and can be a transformational tool for rectifying inequities across communities. However, in the Capital Region, there are stark disparities in broadband internet access and affordability. In the three Washington D.C. wards (wards 5,7 & 8) that are predominantly Black, over 35% of households do not have access to broadband.252 In Maryland, a 2019 survey found that close to 40% of households without broadband are Black households.253

    Cost is one of the most prohibitive factors for obtaining broadband in the District; nearly 30% of DC households with earnings below $50,000 per year lacked broadband in 2019.252

    In Virginia, as of May 2022, about 70% of residents do not have access to an affordable internet plan of $60/month or less.254

    As communities and businesses become increasingly reliant on the internet for everyday interactions, such as consumer banking, retail, education, health care, and social connection, investments in equitable digital infrastructure are critical for ensuring that no one gets left behind. Long-term, sustainable digital connectivity for all can be accomplished by:

    • Collaborating with policymakers, internet providers, and technology companies to provide affordable home internet options and digital devices to overlooked communities

    • Advocating for the widespread expansion of reliable and high-quality broadband services, especially for communities of color, rural populations, and low and moderate-income communities

    • Supporting and funding organizations that provide digital skills training for historically overlooked communities

    Recommendations

    Recommendation 1 Affordable Broadband & Digital Devices Collaborate with policymakers, internet providers, and technology companies to provide affordable home internet options and digital devices to overlooked communities

    Nationwide, Black and Hispanic adults are less likely to own a computer or have access to high-speed broadband at home compared to white adults.255 A 2019 report found that among Black adults nationwide, 58% have a computer and 66% have home broadband access, and among Hispanic adults 57% own a computer and 61% have broadband; both of these fell below the percentages among white adults, at 82% and 79% respectively.256 This has ramifications for equitable access to opportunity when families rely on internet and devices to partake in society, including remote learning, applying to jobs, accessing telehealth, and staying connected to real-time information.

    In addition, low-income households experience greater financial hardship when it comes to paying for broadband. In DC, a 4-year snapshot from 2014-2018 revealed that 51% of households earning less than $20,000 per year had no internet compared to 6% of those making more than $75,000.257

    Near half of lower-income households in the U.S. (43%) don’t have broadband and rely more on a smartphone than a computer258, which is not ideal for completing more complex work tasks and school assignments, and smartphones often come with data plan restrictions259, which further limit access.

    When digital connectivity is cost-prohibitive, access to education and equitable career pathways are hindered, which reduces opportunities for individuals and families and compromises the diverse and competitive talent available to businesses.

    Leveraging private sector resources in partnership with the public sector can mitigate costly subscriptions and devices for households, particularly lower-income households, and provide families with equal opportunity to thrive.

    Expected Impacts

    • Community: With the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law focusing attention on both broadband affordability and access, companies have the opportunity to leverage available funding and partner with stakeholders to subsidize internet costs, which will increase the number of households with internet subscriptions

    • Private
      Sector:
      By subsidizing or partnering with entities who provide affordable broadband for under resourced communities, more households have the opportunity to acquire the skills and education needed to meet employer hiring and workforce demands

    Efforts in Progress

    • Regional
      Bright Spots:
      Capital One partnered with Comcast and AHC Inc. to launch the Capital One Digital Access (CODA) program, which provides free, reliable-speed internet to households residing in affordable housing communities

    • In 2020, Mayor Bowser announced a $3.3M initiative, Internet
      for All,


      to provide free internet to low-income students and families in the District through partnerships with Comcast and RCN

    • National Bright Spot: Rural
      LISC, funded by entities like
      AT&T,

      Microsoft
      Philanthropies, and Truist Foundation
      , provide refurbished digital devices and equipment and discounted service subscriptions to underserved rural communities

    Implementation Considerations

    • Companies should consider partnering with affordable housing developers to provide free or subsidized internet in public housing units

    • With the influx of federal funding, there is an opportunity to partner with eligible nonprofits and state/local agencies to subsidize internet costs, especially in lower-density, rural markets where service providers increase prices to compensate for lower customer volume

    • Businesses should partner with nonprofits and refurbishing organizations (e.g.,
      PCs

      for

      People) to provide low-cost or free digital devices to students

    Recommendation 2 Accessible Broadband Advocate for the widespread expansion of reliable and high-quality broadband services, especially for communities of color, rural populations, and low and moderate-income communities

    As communities become increasingly reliant on digital infrastructure for work, school, personal finances, and healthcare, the need for accessible, quality, and dependable internet connectivity grows. In 2020, a report estimated that 42 million people in the U.S. did not have internet260, and 62% of U.S. counties lacked dependable high-performing broadband service261; in other words, communities did not have the minimum FCC-defined download speed (25 mbps). The pandemic further underscored the severity of this challenge when households switched to remote learning and telework, and quarantine requirements prevented individuals from obtaining COVID-19 and routine healthcare in person. These challenges are often more acute in historically-excluded communities.

    Inaccurate or underreported data on digital access is a recurring issue and often misrepresents the gravity of the digital divide in the country and region. Microsoft reported its own data alongside the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2019 to illustrate that while the number of unserved individuals seemed minimal nationwide, the number of people using minimum reliable broadband was severely lacking across most of the country.262 Approximately 157 million people did not use internet at broadband speeds nationwide despite the FCC reporting that only 21M people lacked access to broadband.

    General broadband expansion is also not enough. Specific attention is needed for overlooked communities that have been adversely impacted by historical redlining policies and other discriminatory practices. Since internet service providers invest in areas they expect to be profitable, low-income communities, often comprised of Black and Hispanic households, are frequently overlooked or are provided low-quality broadband – known as “digital redlining.”263

    In D.C., the wards with the highest density of Black and Hispanic residents have lower internet access than wards where predominantly white residents live.264 Moreover, 37% of households in Northeast D.C. (comprised of predominantly Black residents) have broadband compared to up to 90% of Northwest D.C. households (predominantly white households).265 In Baltimore, 40% of households in 2018 did not have access to wireline broadband.266

    The business community can play a valuable role by investing in equitable service delivery for historically disinvested communities and advocating for more accurate data collection and reporting to spur larger local and federal investments in broadband infrastructure.

    Expected Impacts

    • Community: Addressing disparate broadband access to remediate equity gaps will allow more households to access economic opportunity and civic engagement opportunities, and decrease individual customer costs as more households subscribe to the Internet and providers can charge less

      According to an Amazon and U.S. Chamber of Commerce study, increased access to digital tools for rural small businesses in Virginia can generate returns of at least $2.24B in annual sales, $1.29B in annual state GDP, 9,415 jobs, and $452.4M in annual wages267

    • Private Sector: More equitable distribution of quality broadband service will strengthen the consumer base, talent pipeline, and generate greater returns for providers as more households enroll in their services

    Efforts in Progress

    • Regional
      Bright Spot:
      Dominion
      Energy is partnering
      with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to install “middle-mile” fiber networks to reach unserved counties in Virginia

    • National Bright Spot:

      Ting

      Internet

      is

      partnering

      with

      a

      Colorado
      utilities company
      to undertake a large-scale broadband infrastructure project aimed at expanding “last-mile” broadband services to households in Colorado, with the ultimate goal of servicing 400,000 addresses in the state268

    Implementation Considerations

    • When supporting widespread broadband expansion, consideration should be given to long-term sustainability of priority infrastructure investments, given the continuous evolution of technology

    • Businesses should partner with service providers and government offices to subsidize infrastructure costs and support efforts that utilize existing and innovative infrastructure to close coverage gaps by extending internet to excluded communities (e.g., Project

      Waves)

    • Companies can support broadband accessibility through investments to expand free public internet access (e.g., reliable Wi-Fi hotspots and internet in libraries, community centers, laundromats)

    • Companies should encourage their employees to raise complaints to the newly developed FCC
      Task
      Force
      to Prevent Digital

      Discrimination
      if experiencing or observing digital discrimination in their communities

    Recommendation 3 Digital Skills Proficiency Support and fund organizations that provide digital skills trainings for historically overlooked communities

    While digital connectivity is critical for inclusion, infrastructure and devices are futile unless individuals understand how to obtain, engage, and leverage these services and technologies. The digital skills gap is particularly pronounced among communities of color. The U.S. Department of Education found that digital illiteracy among Black adults was two times that of white adults in the U.S.269

    Less than 20% of Black and only 16% of Hispanic workers in the United States hold remote-optional jobs compared to 33% of white employees, according to a 2018 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics270; since then, the pandemic has only widened this gap. This means that more Black and Hispanic employees are worse-positioned than their white counterparts to use and rely on digital devices and services, and are at greater risk of under performing at jobs that require remote or hybrid work. Closing the digital skills gap is imperative to helping ensure Black and Latinx families and communities are not left behind. The private sector has the capacity and resources to help deliver these trainings to the most excluded communities.

    Coupled with investments and partnerships to advance digital skills training, the anticipated rollout of funding under the Digital
    Equity Act
    will enable agencies, providers, and households to benefit from reliable broadband service. Unfortunately, many households and agencies are either unaware or unequipped to apply to these funding opportunities and, in some cases, do not know about the programs at all. Businesses can partner with nonprofits to conduct informational sessions to employees to raise awareness and equip applicants with the skills to navigate their options.

    Expected Impacts

    • Community:
      Increased investments in digital skills development and available resources will enable more households to obtain and effectively use affordable, quality internet, which will allow them to engage in the digital economy, partake in online education, and obtain access to real-time information

    • Private
      Sector:
      When more households have access to reliable internet and know how to use it, there is a more robust and qualified workforce available to meet in-demand digital skills and tech careers

    Efforts in Progress

    • Partnership
      Bright
      Spot
      :
      The Capital CoLAB facilitates collaboration between higher education institutions and employers to develop digital career pathways that are responsive to in-demand digital tech and tech-adjacentCC jobs

    • National
      Bright Spots:
      EveryoneOn
      is partnering with Microsoft
      to provide foundational digital skills training and online resources, including how to locate and enroll in low-cost broadband, and tools to navigate career, health and wellness, and finances online. Trainees are also provided 3 months of free internet.

    • Comcast’s
      Project UP
      program, backed by a $1B commitment to reach tens of millions of people, aims to increase digital connectivity and strengthen individuals’ digital skills to ready the next generation of entrepreneurs and workers

    • Digital
      Navigators
      is a service model designed to deliver digital technical support and trainings to communities, as well as devices and public access computer labs. The model is intended to address multiple facets of digital inclusion—access, affordability, reliable connectivity, and capacity-building

    Implementation Considerations

    • Digital skills training should be conducted in partnership with digital equity-focused nonprofits and should include training on data security to protect users of media, apps, and email from phishing scams and identity/credit card theft

    • Trainings should be offered in multiple languages and delivered with accessibility features for those with diverse abilities

    • Digital proficiency programs should be paired with affordable or subsidized internet subscriptions so individuals are able to apply what they have learned after completing the training

    • Organizations should support programs like Digital Navigators that provide communities skills training and application support for eligible funding opportunities

Case Study: Baltimore Greenway Trails Network

The Partnership partnered with EY and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to study the potential impacts of completing the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network, a 25-mile network of trails that will connect many of Baltimore’s job centers and educational and cultural institutions with a diverse cross-section of more than 75 neighborhoods.

EY brought their research and technical expertise to the table to examine the social and economic benefits, including the return on investment, for the City of Baltimore. The report found that, “when compared with the project’s estimated cost of $28M, the estimated benefits of completing the Greenway far exceed the investment.” Among the benefits, completion of the

Baltimore Greenway Trails Network could generate up to:

$113 million

per year in direct, indirect, and induced local retail activity near the trail

$48 million

in total economic impacts of trail construction, with $17 million in labor income

$314 million

in aggregate residential property values and new tax revenues of $7.1 million

Replace 8.5 million

vehicle miles traveled with more walking, biking, and transit use

$2.4 million

in annual public health savings resulting from more residents walking and biking

3,900 tons

of carbon emissions avoided

Case Study: Microsoft Airband Initiative

Microsoft is partnering with telecommunications providers and device manufacturers to increase digital access, affordability, and digital skills through co-investments and subject matter expertise. Launched in 2017, Microsoft has been prioritizing digital infrastructure investments and skills training to close the digital equity gap nationwide and globally. Their support to-date has included: investments in affordable, off-grid energy providers; use of low-cost wireless technologies to improve digital inclusion; and financing the construction of a wireless internet network.

Microsoft also works alongside the public sector to match capital investments with government financial and regulatory support.

This initiative included a data-mapping effort to showcase the digital disparities nationwide that are underreported by the FCC, and Microsoft has advocated for friendlier policies towards small internet service providers to broaden their reach through unutilized TV infrastructure.

As of 2020, Microsoft successfully stood up more than 90 projects across the globe under this initiative, which includes partnerships with 12 internet service providers across 24 U.S. states.

By July 2022, Microsoft aims to connect:

3 million

People in the US

40 million

People globally

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