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Reflections from a digital equity advocate: A Q&A with Cody Dorsey

Cody Dorsey, the executive director of the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition (BDEC), is at the forefront of efforts to bridge the digital divide in the city. His background in advocacy, policy analysis, and relationship-building positions him as a key figure in the quest for digital equity. Under his leadership, BDEC has expanded from 50 to over 100 diverse organizations citywide, all united in the mission to address the pressing issues of device access, internet connectivity, and advocacy.

Baltimore faces a digital divide, with around 40% of households lacking broadband internet access, and one in three households without a desktop or laptop computer. Dorsey is committed to narrowing this gap and believes that his role as a “digital navigator” is essential. He emphasizes the importance of resolving these disparities in a city where access to the internet and devices is crucial.

A significant achievement of BDEC was the establishment of the city’s first tech support help desk. This initiative was in collaboration with Dell and the Pratt Library, offering digital skills training to interns who operated the help desk. Dorsey praises libraries as valuable community hubs and points to Dell’s contribution of 1,000 Chromebook devices in 2022, distributed through the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s programs. However, as similar resources emerged from organizations like NPower and TechExtension, BDEC decided to close its help desk, recognizing the importance of dedicated helplines for technical support.

Dorsey sees these help desks and hotlines as lifelines for individuals seeking technology assistance. He underscores the value of offering a human touch through phone support in a world that prioritizes digital literacy.

In a conversation with Technical.ly, Dorsey discusses BDEC’s accomplishments and initiatives, including hosting the Federal Communications Commission’s Task Force and pioneering Digital Equity Day, which was the first of its kind nationwide. He emphasizes BDEC’s role in advocating for digital equity and its commitment to being a resource for decision-makers, especially in the post-pandemic era with the influx of federal funding.

Regarding the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), Dorsey highlights its importance in providing $30 per month, supplemented by $15 from Maryland, to eligible recipients. He sees it as a transformative practice that fosters economic opportunity and global resource access. He stresses the need for Congress to extend the ACP, considering its impact on communities and its alignment with Congressman John Lewis’s view that internet access is the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

Addressing concerns about evolving technology and artificial intelligence (AI), Dorsey acknowledges the fear stemming from digital literacy gaps and the importance of distinguishing between real and fake online content. He mentions that BDEC is prepared to address cybersecurity and potentially AI-related issues, collaborating with organizations like Per Scholas and NPower.

Digital Equity Day holds significance in updating people on the digital equity landscape, and Dorsey intends to continue hosting such events. He recognizes the vital role of public engagement and safety in digital equity, extending the conversation to emerging technologies like AI and facial recognition.

To achieve digital equity in Baltimore, Dorsey emphasizes the need for everyone’s participation, including additional navigators. He encourages spreading awareness through word-of-mouth, aligning with the Bmore Connected campaign’s focus on raising awareness about the ACP in partnership with EducationSuperHighway. Through his leadership, Dorsey is driving Baltimore’s efforts to close the digital divide and create a more inclusive digital landscape.

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