February is Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada, a time for remembering the great contributions Black people have made to our society. However, it’s also an opportunity to think about empowering the next generation of Black people to make future contributions.
This means promoting digital inclusion for the Black community. We live in a digital world, where everything from educational opportunities to career success depends on having digital connectivity and the skills to use it. That’s why it’s discouraging to see that the digital divide disproportionately impacts Black people, leaving us with fewer opportunities to succeed in the digital economy.
The causes of today’s digital divide are deeply ingrained in history. Overcoming them will take intentional strategies and investments across government, nonprofits and businesses.
What are the barriers to digital inclusion?
Black people are statistically more likely to face barriers around digital access, affordability and adoption.
Research from McKinsey found that 40% of Black households in America don’t have access to fixed high-speed broadband, compared to 28% of White households. The gap is significant across both urban and rural areas.
A report from The Markup also found that in many U.S. cities, households in lower-income neighborhoods often receive slower internet despite paying similar prices as those in higher-income neighborhoods. The impacted neighborhoods tend to have higher non-White populations. These neighborhoods technically have high-speed internet access, but it’s often too slow for demanding activities like online education or remote work.
U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the Black poverty rate has decreased in recent years, but is still higher than the national average: 17.1% versus 11.5% in 2022. This means that even if true high-speed internet is available in their area, Black people are more likely to be priced out of it.
The federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) addresses this issue by providing monthly benefits to help low-income households afford internet access. However, even the modest progress we’ve made is at risk: The FCC expects funding for the ACP to run out this April. Unless Congress acts soon to increase funding, internet access will become unaffordable for millions of households once again.
The previously mentioned McKinsey research found that only half of Black workers have the necessary skills to thrive in the digital economy, compared to 77% of White workers. Not only is there a digital skills gap impacting Black Americans, but they’re also less likely to have the devices needed to learn digital skills. Only 69% of Black Americans own a computer, while 80% of White Americans do. The digital skills gap seems likely to continue growing—unless we act to stop it.
How is Equinix promoting digital inclusion?
At Equinix, we understand the importance of digital inclusion, and we’re doing our part to achieve it through a variety of initiatives.
Increasing access and affordability
Equinix is a signatory of the CEO Action for Racial Equity (CEOARE) fellowship, which aims to advance equity through education and opportunity. In alignment with the CEOARE agenda, we recently announced a pilot program to make reliable, affordable internet access more widely available in underserved areas in Michigan, New York and Texas.
Promoting equity for Black university students
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) can help close the education and opportunity gaps facing Black Americans. However, many HBCUs are themselves facing a digital divide. They often struggle to provide stable, high-speed connectivity everywhere across campus, making the learning process more difficult.
Equinix partnered with Fisk University, an HBCU in Nashville, Tennessee, to address the digital divide while helping Black students accelerate their careers. The Equinix Foundation made a $1 million commitment over four years to fund the university’s technology infrastructure modernization plan. Equinix also instituted an internship program with a hiring path for interns to become full-time employees after graduation.
Empowering the next generation of Black digital leaders
The Equinix Foundation supports several grant partners working to help Black students develop digital skills from an early age and prepare for tech job opportunities. For example, StreetCode Academy empowers communities of color to achieve their potential by introducing the skills, mindsets and networks to embrace tech and innovation, while catalyzing a more diverse tech sector. Also, BigHope helps K-12 students in underserved communities develop foundational digital knowledge and skills that can create pathways to future academic and career opportunities.
BlackConnect empowers employees to make a difference
We founded Equinix BlackConnect in 2020 to help create a more inclusive, empowering work environment for Black employees worldwide. This means providing support and opportunities for current employees, but also helping create a more diverse workforce going forward.
For this reason, digital inclusion is an issue of special importance for us. In addition to supporting Equinix initiatives like the one at Fisk, BlackConnect members have participated in several external events and programs intended to promote digital inclusion and opportunities for the Black community.
For instance, our members recently attended Hack the Dream 2024, a social justice hackathon celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event was sponsored by i.c.stars, a nonprofit with an innovative dual focus on employment skills development and community impact. Attendees applied design thinking principles to develop solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing community organizations today.
Members also participated in a mentoring event sponsored by Summer Search, a nonprofit that aims to help young people overcome obstacles created by educational and career opportunity gaps. Our members shared their experiences of working in the tech industry, hoping to give young people a positive model to emulate. We spoke about our career journeys, including how racism has created challenges for us and how we were able to overcome those challenges.
Let’s take the next step—together
At BlackConnect, we recognize that digital inclusion is a massive undertaking that no organization can achieve alone. However, we’re doing our small part to drive incremental change. Any time we can give young people opportunities to break into the technology industry and achieve in their careers, that’s a success that will continue to reverberate for years to come.
We’re proud to work alongside the Equinix Foundation, which shares our mission of promoting digital inclusion for underserved communities. Learn more about the Equinix Foundation.
The issue of digital inclusion impacts us all. Going forward, we encourage businesses and individuals to coordinate with government agencies and consider how they can best share their resources and time to support this worthy cause.
 Leon Yin and Aaron Sankin, Dollars to Megabits, You May Be Paying 400 Times As Much As Your Neighbor for Internet Service, The Markup, October 19, 2022.
 Em Shrider, Poverty Rate for the Black Population Fell Below Pre-Pandemic Levels, U.S. Census Bureau, September 12, 2023.
 The FCC is Taking Steps to Wind Down the Affordable Connectivity Program, Federal Communications Commission