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Maggie Kohn headshot

Verizon Wants To Harness 5G to Bridge the Digital Divide

As rapidly advancing technology changes the way we live, learn and work, the company says it’s ramping up investments in digital inclusion and education to ensure no one is left behind.
By Maggie Kohn
Verizon Innovative Learning schools boost digital inclusion

(Image: One of several initiatives aimed at boosting digital inclusion, the Verizon Innovative Learning program exposes middle-schoolers in under-resourced schools to new technology applications in subjects such as science and engineering.)

To say it’s been a busy year for Verizon is an understatement. More accurately, it’s been a busy decade for the telecommunications giant. The company has been shifting its $131 billion business portfolio and 150 global locations aggressively toward both environmental and social sustainability. 

For example, Verizon generated headlines this year by launching the first $1 billion green bond within the telecom sector. The bonds mature in 2029, but Verizon plans to use the vast majority of this offering’s proceeds on projects set to launch over the next three years. Funds from the bonds will kick off projects in renewable power, water and energy efficiency, and sustainable buildings projects. 

And when it comes to social impact, Verizon has made clear that it will help lead us during the fourth industrial revolution, due to what will be possible thanks to 5G technology. As rapidly advancing technology changes the way we live, learn and work, the company says it’s ramping up investments in digital inclusion and education to ensure no one is left behind.

To learn more about how Verizon will be at the vanguard of social innovation and digital inclusion, TriplePundit connected with Rose Stuckey Kirk, the company’s chief corporate social responsibility officer.

TriplePundit: Why is the digital divide a concern for Verizon?

Rose Stuckey Kirk: To improve people’s lives, we must use technology responsibly—and this is at the core of our business strategy and social responsibility commitment.

For many years, we’ve applied technology to help solve the digital divide in education. Think about this: Right now, there are more than 6.5 million students without tech resources or tools in schools. This places them at a disadvantage to compete for jobs of the future, where more than just technical professionals will require the knowledge and use of technology. These students are missing out on a key element of preparation for their futures.

Through our education initiatives, we’re using our technology to help under-resourced students be creators, complex problem-solvers, and creative thinkers and to be more prepared to build better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.

Through workforce development, digital literacy and STEM education opportunities, our goal is to uplift whole communities. We’re building digital learning centers and implementing digital literacy programs focused on workforce readiness skills. At Verizon, it’s about digital inclusion, and together we’re helping to remove barriers of economic prosperity by making technology more accessible and bringing connectivity and digital skills to the people who need it most.
3p: What makes Verizon’s approach to the digital divide unique in the industry?

RSK: We’re on the precipice of a technology revolution so profound that it will change how every industry across the globe operates. 5G is radically expanding access to technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, 3-D printing and wearable tech. We have an obligation and an opportunity to provide the access and inclusivity required to prosper in an era defined by these increasingly complex technologies and to leverage the power of our network to create a digitally inclusive environment for all.

For example, our Verizon Innovative Learning program leans into middle schools in under-resourced areas across the U.S., giving students the exposure and confidence they need to see themselves as scientists, engineers, technologists and innovators—careers they may not have even known existed. Our commitment means we provide these students with the latest tech tools-- from 24/7 internet access to tablets or Chromebooks for every teacher and student. But more than that, we provide a robust support system for teachers through technology enabled curriculum and ongoing training to help create the kind of transformation that changes lives.

Additionally, we’re working on expanding tech access in rural areas through our own infrastructure and our LTE in Rural America (LRA) program, in partnership with rural carriers, to accelerate the deployment of rural wireless broadband services. We’ve also committed to a rural education program, which introduces STEM and higher education opportunities to middle school girls in rural locations through a partnership with community colleges.

3p: Can you update us on your commitment and timeline for being the first to bring 5G technology to the classroom?

RSK: 5G already has a huge impact on what is possible in the classroom, delivering unprecedented augmented and virtual reality experiences that enable students to visit ends of the solar system, construct and dissect cells, meet underrepresented minority icons from history and more.

As part of our commitment to leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Verizon is committed to bringing state-of-the-art technology, including 5G access, to select schools across the country, which we call Verizon Innovative Learning schools. The journey started in 2018 when Verizon launched the 5G EdTech Challenge, inviting nonprofits, universities and startups to submit ideas to transform middle-school classrooms using 5G. The winning teams, whose solutions include dynamic education solutions that tap into augmented and virtual reality technologies that truly harness the power of 5G, launched their projects in the Verizon 5G Innovative Learning lab at E-Prep Cliffs in Cleveland, Ohio, this fall.

Not only are we doubling the number of schools in the program, we are committed to bringing 5G to 100 Verizon Innovative Learning schools across the U.S. by 2021.
We’re bringing much needed exposure to these young students in Title 1 schools, but moreover we’re empowering them with the ability to use the 5G technology that is going to be a staple of their future success. We’re introducing this technology to give students a voice and to be the change makers for their community. 

3p: The issue of digital exclusion is so challenging and complex that clearly no one organization can solve it on its own. How is Verizon working with other companies and organizations to advance its goals?

RSK: We can’t build a digitally inclusive society on our own, so we’re working with partners across sectors, including policymakers on Capitol Hill, Hispanic-serving institutions, Historically Black Colleges, and nonprofit tech and STEM partners. We’re dedicated to ensuring more people, especially students and diverse communities, have access to technology and know how to use it to succeed.

For example, Verizon recently announced a partnership to offer free access to the New York Times to over 7 million students and teachers in Title 1 schools across America. We’ve also partnered with UnidosUS to build digital learning centers and to implement a digital literacy program focused on workforce readiness skills in underserved Latino communities in four major U.S. cities.

3p: In addition to the great work supported by the Verizon Foundation to address the digital divide, how is Verizon’s Corporate Responsibility team helping to integrate this priority throughout the business?

RSK: We are taking actions in three key areas: digital inclusion, climate protection and human prosperity. These are the most important issues to the communities we serve and those that Verizon’s technology and assets can most positively impact. All of these areas have positive impact on society as well as value to our business, as they can open new markets, catalyze innovation and drive new business models.

Verizon’s climate protection efforts are contributing to a greener planet by reducing carbon emissions and minimizing waste in our operations, while also using our technology for environmental solutions. We’ve committed to be carbon neutral in our operations by 2035, focusing immediately on our 5G network and supply chain and working toward making them carbon neutral by 2025. In support of that commitment, we’ve set a goal to source renewables so the provide 50 percent of our total electricity, a significant undertaking for a company of our size. We are driving innovation in our network and solutions to help solve global climate change.

Image credit: Verizon via 3BL Media

Maggie Kohn headshot

Maggie Kohn is excited to be a contributor to Triple Pundit to illustrate how business can achieve positive change in the world while supporting long-term growth. Maggie worked for more than 20 years at the biopharma giant Merck & Co., Inc., leading corporate responsibility and social business initiatives. She currently writes, speaks and consults on corporate responsibility and social impact when she is not busy fostering kittens for her local animal shelter. Click here to learn more.

Read more stories by Maggie Kohn