Connecting the Heartland: How Heartland Forward is Doing our Part to Bridge the Digital Divide

Angie Cooper, Chief Program Officer


According to a 2019 Pew Research Center studyi half of Americans who are not connected to high-speed internet at home say it’s because they can’t afford the monthly payment. In the wake of a global pandemic that highlighted how important the internet is in our day-to-day lives, Congress created the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB) through the FCC to decrease the cost barrier to internet access. Now, as part of our “Connecting the Heartland” initiative, Heartland Forward is launching an awareness campaign to spread the word about the program and get internet service to those who need it at home.

With each passing day, access to reliable, high-speed internet becomes more and more crucial to people of all ages and backgrounds. When the pandemic rendered our world virtual, a lack of high-speed internet meant being cut off from essential functions like school, work, and healthcare.

Yet, 42 million Americansii lack high-speed internet access, including approximately 30 percent of our K-12 students.iii For many, cost is to blame, with analysisiv showing 60 percent of disconnected K-12 students, particularly Black and urban students, are unable to afford internet service.

In an increasingly internet-dependent world, and with the knowledge that cost is a major barrier to getting connected, the federal government passed the (EBB) to help households struggling to access the internet in their home. Eligible participants will receive a $50 a month discount toward their internet service, with households on qualifying Tribal lands receiving a discount of up to $75 per month. For those who need a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer in their home, a one time, $100 discount to purchase that technology may be available as well.

While the EBB is an enormous step in the right direction towards closing the digital divide, we know that the resources it provides can only be helpful if the people that need them most know they are available.

During a workshop we hosted before the launch of the program, Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission Jessica Rosenworcel and other state leaders echoed this sentiment. Rosenworcel put out the call: We need all hands on deck to help ensure that news of the Emergency Broadband Benefit reaches as many households as possible.

And, Heartland Forward is proud to answer that call.

We’re running a comprehensive, multi-faceted public awareness campaign that will utilize both targeted paid and earned media to reach people in all corners of Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas and Tennessee who need help accessing internet service. We’re working with a wide range of partners — from state agencies to community organizations — to help us reach and connect with eligible families, including providing information to be distributed at schools, libraries, healthcare facilities, employment service centers and more.

Collaboration yields greater impact, and we’re thrilled to be building meaningful relationships with individuals and organizations who are on the ground in these four states — engaging the communities we need to reach through Connecting the Heartland.

Rosenworcel and state leaders are right — we need a significant, coordinated effort to ensure families and households in need are aware of, and able to enroll in, the EBB Program. Heartland Forward is ready to take on that challenge and secure a brighter future for our Heartland communities by bridging the broadband internet access gap, one connection at a time.

[i] Pew Research Center (June 2019). Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2019

[ii] J. Busby, J. Tanberk, T. Cooper (June 2021). BroadbandNow Estimates Availability for all 50 States; Confirms that More than 42 Million Americans Do Not Have Access to Broadband

[iii] Chandra, S., Chang, A., Day, L., Fazlullah, A., Liu, J., McBride, L., Mudalige, T., Weiss, D., (2020). Closing the K–12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Consulting Group.

[iv] Ali, T., Chandra, S., Cherukumilli, S., Fazlullah, A., Hill, H., McAlpine, N., McBride, L., Vaduganathan, N., Weiss, D., Wu, M. (2021). Looking back, looking forward: What it will take to permanently close the K–12 digital divide. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.