WTAS: Faith Leaders Highlight Urgency for Action to Bridge the Digital Divide

Black Churches 4 Digital Equity Webinar Explores Impact of Broadband Gap on Communities of Faith

On Monday, Black Churches 4 Digital Equity, a Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) initiative, hosted a virtual panel on Black churches leading digital equity conversations. The event included an introduction by MMTC president and CEO Robert Branson, and a panel discussion led by Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee of the Brookings Institute. Panelists included three church leaders alongside a representative from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The panelists highlighted the urgency for solutions to achieve greater digital equity through broadband service, devices, and digital skills.

The broadband gap disproportionately impacts communities of color. A Pew Research analysis found 29 percent of African American adults lack a broadband connection at home. This stark divide not only exacerbates systemic challenges but hinders the economic progress of the entire nation.

NTIA will have a critical role to play in helping to bridge the digital divide and expand digital equity — and must ensure that broadband infrastructure programs recently established by Congress are deployed with a technology neutral approach to maximize their reach, cost-effectiveness, and positive impact.

Here’s what panelists at the Black Churches 4 Digital Equity event had to say:

Robert Branson, President and CEO, MMTC:

“According to a Pew study last April, 90 percent of people reported that their churches nationwide closed their doors during the pandemic and went online. While when they went online, the churches needed to have broadband and the people receiving the services needed to be connected.”

Rev. William Lamar IV, Pastor, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church:

“You cannot live abundantly nor flourish as a human being, black or otherwise, if you do not have connectivity. If you don’t have connectivity, or if you did not have connectivity during the guts of the pandemic, your children were not being educated. If you don’t have it right now, it’s hard for you to have access to your money, it’s hard for you to gain credit, it’s hard for you to connect with your family. It’s hard for you to be entertained. It’s hard for you to participate in worship in community… We must mobilize so that black people can participate, not be cut out of the digital economy, not be cut out of connectivity because to do so is to cut us and others away from human thriving and that’s not the goal of our faith nor is it the goal of at least the rhetoric of this nation’s values.”

Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, Co-Pastor, Ray of Hope Community Church:

“You have to be connected in order to get the services that are available. In the communities, the conversations that are going, the jobs, knowing about your finance, getting the health information you need and I want to enter into that area right now because I think that we tend to think of the broadband issue and why black churches ought to be advocates and involved and invested because we’re online and we want our people to have access to us.”

Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, Board Member, Woman Preach:

“Being able to access the internet was a lifeline for me as a parent… we were hearing about students in parking lots of fast-food restaurants and even in parking lots of schools that was one of the interventions that the district actually offered, that you know sort of get near a place. That’s a justice issue. The black church has always been a place where literacy and education were valued and where we were the purveyors in those spaces where the access in other places was not present. Sunday School wasn’t just about the Bible. Bible study wasn’t just about the Bible. It was also about education more broadly. So, I am concerned, both as a parent and as a pastor about what it means for our students not to have access to the things they needed then, and quite frankly they still need in order to be able to be educated. We don’t have snow days in Philadelphia anymore, we just go online. Well, if you weren’t online before, then you’re not online now. If you didn’t have that access before, you still don’t have it now.”

Scott Woods, Director, Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives, Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, NTIA:

“The Biden Administration and Congress just passed about $65 billion in broadband funding approximately of which approximately $50 billion of that will come through NTIA and so our office, my office plays a crucial role in ensuring, you know, that our communities, our churches are activated and they understand what this money is going to be used for, how it’s going to impact our communities, what the state is going to be responsible for… We’re creating haves and have nots right, economically, but we’re creating those haves and have nots in the faith community as well, amongst our churches.

Churches who were able to go to a digital platform and stream and their members had laptops and computers and devices and they could participate in ministry, and they could participate in worship it was a new normal, but they still had that sense of community. Now, think about those churches that couldn’t flip a switch and stream their services. Members couldn’t participate in worship and ministry. They couldn’t sing their gospel parts and stream them live for live streaming on Sunday so that parishioners and congregates had an opportunity to participate in worship so that’s what we’re talking about. We need to expand the conversation beyond the public policy diaspora into what we know is real world, real impact themed issues. So, it is telemedicine, it is health, it is economic but it also is faith based. It is worship. It is ministry. It is outreach. It is everything that impacts out communities and we need to be unabashed and not shy to talk about those impacts.”

Watch a recording the full event HERE.

Learn more about how NTIA can maximize the positive impact of broadband infrastructure resources HERE.

Learn more about CAN and our mission HERE.


Join our fight to bring broadband to all rural Americans. Tell Washington to take action to bridge the digital divide now!