If Ray Hampton, a Systems Engineer at River Run, looks serious on his LinkedIn profile picture, it is because this fun-loving, community-minded man knows the power a single spark can have. Ray ensures that used computer equipment, which can be repaired or upgraded, gets into the hands of those who need it most. He teaches children and young adults how to fix and configure equipment, hoping it may light a spark that leads to a future career in the growing technology and computing services industry.
Ray has worked in the Information Technology field for over 20 years, where he has designed and implemented systems for businesses in Wisconsin and Illinois. He is serious about digital inclusion because he travels from work at client locations, with the most sophisticated equipment that money can buy, into communities, including his own, that still don’t have proper access to the internet and the devices needed to live, thrive, and compete equally.
Born and raised on the north side of Milwaukee, Ray is the oldest of three, a father, an uncle, and Godfather. He is ordained, served as an Elder, and is on the Board of Directors of BEYOND4WALLS, a non-profit organization with a vision to provide opportunities to learn, grow, and come together for change. They are dedicated to putting their mission into action by providing a full range of charitable community services - educational, spiritual, and community development activities. Ray has always worked to impact the community he grew up in and beyond. He has volunteered with Street Angels to hand out food and supplies to Milwaukee’s homeless.
Because of his passion for sparking interest in technology, and closing the digital diversity divide in the community, Ray founded Impact The Community Project, LLC. As CEO, Ray is bringing adults and youth together to receive donated computer equipment from River Run and their clients, to “fix up” and distribute.
Ray did not let the pandemic get in the way…seriously. On Sunday, August 9th, he orchestrated a group of volunteers, including kids, that worked on and distributed a load of PCs and other equipment that will be used for years to come.
Did you know that 43% of the world’s households cannot take advantage of the educational and economic benefits of Internet access? Geographic and demographic gaps in digital access create a divide between the haves and have-nots, which is not new news, but has become more painfully apparent during this pandemic.
This divide is happening in places that you might expect, as well as in places that you might assume are well-connected. For example:
In the midst of the pandemic, seniors and those with health issues in our inner cities need home Internet connection for telemedicine appointments and decisions on medication and dosage. Because so many rely on Internet service from public libraries or public locations, COVID-19 has made it much more difficult for people, who found ways to get proper medical attention via these services, to remain healthy now while sheltering in place.
In rural Iowa, well before terrifying winds over 100 MPH ripped through the state earlier this month, many had no home internet access after providers abruptly shut down service and no other company was willing to invest the millions of dollars needed to wire the area with fiber. This has left them and their school-aged children unconnected before, during, and most likely after the pandemic.
Across the globe in Malawi, many live in poverty in a country where only 14% of the population can access the internet due to poor infrastructure, frequent black-outs, cost, and low levels of computer literacy. If there was reliable internet access, quality of life could improve through opportunities for microfinance loans, telemedicine, and distance education.
As schools, work, and social lives had to move more online this year; we have learned a great deal about digital inclusion from COVID-19. This crisis highlights the importance of connectivity, but also highlights the areas where we still fall short. Here are three lessons that the COVID-19 crisis is teaching us about digital inclusion.
1. The digital divide is real and more important than ever.
Many policy makers have swept the digital divide under the proverbial rug for years – likely due in part to the misconceptions put forth by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) reporting on coverage through the FCC 477 data.
While the ISPs self-reported full coverage when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the data showed what communities have been telling us for years – that coverage is indeed not full and that there are millions of under-connected or unconnected households in the US.
As students turn to the Internet to learn and employees count on video conferencing and digital applications for remote work, it is clear that the digital divide is real and is causing students and workers to fall behind.
2. Funding to build and extend access to underserved areas is inadequate, informed by inaccurate data and lack of vision.
First, there is not nearly enough – not by a long shot – funding allocated to provide true broadband service everywhere it is needed. And the current funding is distributed based on eligibility determined by ISP self-reported data that has been proven time and again to greatly overstate coverage.
This effectively drives funding and attention away from the shockingly large number of urban locations where coverage is not complete, impacting more people, and towards more remote locations. While rural locations also need to be connected, in times of crisis this policy does not provide a way to reorder priorities to fund broadband for the most people – but instead prioritizes geographical spread regardless of population impact.
Other funding sources are seeded within monies earmarked for other priorities – like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation. This restricts the connectivity effort to those people and locations in service of other priorities — not the priorities of the American citizens.
Also, the lack of a separate and dedicated funding category diffuses the overall effort and does not support all the activities needed to increase country-wide adoption such as funding support for skills training, and device refurbishing, among other priorities.
3. The social landscape that supports digital inclusion is vibrant, committed and more active than ever!
People care about digital inclusion and the issue is receiving more press coverage than ever before. Organizations and businesses that support individuals across verticals, from housing to banking, to health and education, are collaborating and aligning efforts to support their constituents who are directly impacted by a lack of connectivity during this pandemic.
While collaboration has always been a hallmark of digital inclusion, the current situation has amplified this activity exponentially. Supporting and leveraging the digital inclusion programming infrastructure across the country, to advance the goal of more interactions around online service delivery, will inevitably save money, increase cross-sector collaboration, and provide opportunities to collect and use community data analytics to make our relationships as citizens and residents of communities feel more connected, responsive, and most importantly – healthy with greater opportunities.
These are just a few of the reasons, along with the need for reliable, competitive equipment, that Ray has and will continue efforts in the Milwaukee area, to ensure that he is not only part of the solution, but leading it. Through BEYOND4WALLS and Impact The Community Project, LLC, Ray Hampton is impacting lives every day for the better.
River Run is so very proud to have Ray on our team. We are all inspired by him to do more, donate more, and work harder every day, to not only keep our clients “up and running," but to help our communities, our country, and the world achieve meaningful results.
To donate working computer equipment or for recycling of old technology, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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