The City of Chicago and the Illinois Broadband Lab are co-hosting listening sessions on May 3 and 10 to help shape the state’s plan to invest historic federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) and Digital Equity (DE) programs.

The listening sessions will build upon the work of the Chicago Digital Equity Council in 2022, which engaged more than 3,000 residents through community conversations, solution design workshops, and a citywide survey. The Council published the Chicago Digital Equity Plan, a community-led, actionable plan to achieve digital equity for all Chicagoans, and launched the Chicago Digital Equity Coalition, an organization of organizations working to close the digital divide in Chicago. This progress follows Chicago Connected, a first-of-its-kind initiative that provides free home broadband for Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago students and their families, along with digital learning and tech support resources.

The Illinois Broadband Lab is a collaboration between the Illinois Office of Broadband and University of Illinois System designed to measure, monitor and tell the story of broadband investments across the state.

The listening sessions will focus on understanding how the Illinois Broadband Lab can allocate resources to support equitable access to high-speed internet service and digital skills. Participants will dig into the findings and recommendations in the Chicago Digital Equity Plan, and discuss the ideas, needs, and challenges of Chicago digital equity providers related to sustaining and growing their digital equity initiatives in the long term.

“We launched Chicago Connected to ensure that all students could attend school from home during the height of the pandemic. Since launching, we’ve been able to connect more than 100,000 students to broadband, and thanks to our strong network of community partners, provide more than 30,000 hours of digital learning and tech support,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “Chicago Connected has created the momentum to expand digital equity work citywide. We published the Digital Equity Plan, launched a Digital Equity Coalition, and now look forward to tapping into the historic federal dollars to close the digital divide for good.”

James Rudyk, Executive Director of Northwest Center, says: “The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the systemic digital literacy inequalities black and brown communities in Chicago have faced for years. During Northwest Center’s Chicago Connected Program, we found that the LatinX community was disproportionately left without access to broadband service and in-home devices. The State of Illinois listening sessions are an example of co-creating programs and services with community members most directly impacted by the issue at hand to meet the needs of the community.”

“The Chicago Urban League is pleased to partner with the City of Chicago and the Illinois Broadband Lab to host a listening session on digital equity,” said Chicago Urban League President and CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson. “We understand the devastating impact of the digital divide and the critical role of community voices in addressing issues that affect them. We are honored to welcome community members to the League as we focus on reducing disparities in digital access.”

Residents, local organizations, and nonprofits in Chicago are invited to these events:

Hosted with Northwest Center:

  • Wednesday, May 3, 5:30-7 p.m.
  • Steinmetz College Prep High School, 3030 N Mobile Ave, Chicago, IL 60634
  • RSVP
  • Spanish facilitation, childcare, and refreshments will be provided

Hosted with Chicago Urban League:

  • Wednesday, May 10, 5:30-7 p.m.
  • Chicago Urban League, 4510 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60653
  • RSVP
  • Spanish facilitation, childcare, and refreshments will be provided