MIDAS, Microsoft, and Detroit Partner to Expand Digital Inclusion

MIDAS, Microsoft, and Detroit Partner to Expand Digital Inclusion

Even in 2021 more than 120 million Americans are lacking broadband level internet access, many in rural areas but a shocking number even in our largest cities including Los Angeles, New York City, and Detroit.

The Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS) has been given a unique place as the first academic partner in Microsoft’s initiative to expand digital equality in metropolitan areas, including Detroit, (via Microsoft Airband), by improving broadband internet access and affordability in communities – particularly underserved areas with high Black, Brown, and Latinx populations. For Detroit, the need to close the digital divide is significant: it is one of the least connected major cities in the United States. Over a third of households lack broadband internet access (defined federally as 25Mbps down / 3Mbps up) which compounds dozens of other issues dramatically impacting Detroit residents’ quality of life and upward mobility, such as their ability to access education, find better jobs, or gain timely information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many U-M researchers and students support Detroit’s advancement and its residents’ wellbeing through research partnership. MIDAS adds to this effort by focusing on supporting the city’s data strategy. MIDAS has been closely collaborating with partners in Detroit to support the city’s data strategy. MIDAS Managing Director, Jing Liu, has been collaborating with Kat Hartman, Detroit’s Director of Data Strategy & Analytics, Warren Flood, Microsoft Philanthropies Program Manager and other Detroit personnel to build partnership between Detroit’s data team and U-M data scientists, with the recent focus on digital inclusion. The partnership with and funding from Microsoft Airband jumpstarts their effort to track and evaluate the impact of digital inclusion in Detroit. More broadly, this project will provide insight for Microsoft’s digital equality effort across multiple cities, create and leverage a new academic, government, and industry collaborative model to drive forward socially engaged research using the strengths of all different sectors.

This project is also timely for Detroit. Detroit has started a major push toward digital inclusion and appointed the nation’s first Director of Digital Inclusion (Josh Edmonds) who in turn founded Connect313 to implement digital inclusion strategies through a public-private partnership with the Detroit community at the driver’s seat. The research team will use machine learning and other data science methods to identify households and neighborhoods that are most in need for digital access. They will also recommend digital inclusion interventions and analyze the impact of digital inclusion on Detroit residents’ health, education, job placement, and many aspects of their everyday life.

Academic researchers will also benefit greatly through such “Data For Social Good” efforts. MIDAS hopes that its partnership with Detroit and other public sector partners will enrich U-M data scientists’ research, by connecting academic research with real-world data to tackle significant real-world challenges and translating research outcomes into immediate societal impact.

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