Almost a year into their placements, our American Connection Corps fellows continue their work to connect residents across the heartland to high quality, affordable broadband access. Wesley Smith, placed with the Knox County Development Corporation and Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, has made real progress for the community throughout his time as a fellow.
Wesley has worked to enroll members of the Knoxville community in the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), now called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Through collaboration with organizations on the ground and partnerships with internet service providers, Wesley successfully enrolled dozens of households in affordable internet service through the program and distributed information on EBB to more than 250 families.
Partnering with the other American Connection Corps fellows across Tennessee and organizations involved in closing the digital divide, Wesley discovered how else he could make an impact. He learned about a program in Chattanooga that had transformed the way the city helped its residents gain access to high-speed internet, digital literacy resources and other opportunities.
After hearing about the program, Wesley envisioned what a similar program could look like in Knoxville. “One thing I’m proud of is we’re not just trying to tie people to things online – we’re working to tie people to both the internet and their communities,” he said. As he worked on the program design, which is still in progress, Wesley made sure to touch on many elements of connectivity, including maps of connection locations, digital literacy classes, programs for low income individuals and more. He explained, “Through this work within communities we’re helping bring people and organizations into the digital age while bringing people into a physical place, not just a digital one, to create community togetherness through internet connection.”
One of Wesley’s goals for his participation as an American Connection Corps fellow was to bring his academic background in systems theory to his role with the hope of creating resources and programs that can last far beyond his time as a fellow.
In his words, “We have to be cognizant of whom we are serving in order to make sure that everyone can be reached, which has been a very helpful way to frame the work I’ve engaged in.” He believes he can work toward meeting this goal through the new Knoxville program.
At Heartland Forward, we look forward to watching Wesley and our other fellows continue to make an impact in their communities through the remainder of their placements.