EmpowerCLE+ Promises High-Speed, Low-Cost Internet Across Cleveland

The initiative is part of Cleveland's push to eliminate its digital divide.

click to enlarge Rolando Alvarez and Joshua Edmonds demonstrate EmpowerCLE+ internet speeds. - Maria Elena Scott
Maria Elena Scott
Rolando Alvarez and Joshua Edmonds demonstrate EmpowerCLE+ internet speeds.
Cleveland-based nonprofit DigitalC gave a demonstration of its ethernet and wireless internet speeds at the Phoenix Village apartments Wednesday for EmpowerCLE+, a proposed initiative to bring high-speed broadband, for just $18 a month, to Cleveland.

Representatives for DigitalC say the network will support a family of six or roughly ten devices with a minimum of 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps).

“You can connect different types of devices, tablets, laptops, smartphones, Xboxes, VR, with this type of speed, you can do whatever you want,” said DigitalC technology director Rolando Alvarez.

Pending approval from Cleveland City Council, DigitalC’s rollout of EmpowerCLE+ will be funded by the nonprofit itself, philanthropic contributions and $20 million in ARPA dollars designated by City Council and former Mayor Frank Jackson to close the city's stark digital divide.

EmpowerCLE+ has an internal commitment to sign up 23,500 households but, unlike traditional low-cost internet initiatives, its high-speed network will be available to all 170,000 Cleveland households for $18 a month without restrictions.

“The dollars are Covid dollars that we're using here. Covid didn’t care if you’re rich or poor,” said DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds. “Yes, it affected everybody and in some cases affected people more, but at the end of the day, Covid affected everybody. Therefore, ARPA money should then be released to affect everybody as well, positively.”

According to the Census Bureau, roughly one in four Cleveland households do not have a broadband internet subscription. In addition to a lower monthly cost than other internet providers, EmpowerCLE+ won’t charge customers for the routers and customer premise equipment used for service.

But Edmonds says EmpowerCLE+ would also benefit Clevelanders buying internet services from other companies.

“It still is a necessary shift in the marketplace where, if I'm another internet provider, I now know I've got an affordable option so I can’t nickel and dime everybody to death,” Edmonds said. “Even if someone doesn't take [DigitalC wifi] we’re the necessary cloud that is gonna be hovering over–an affordability cloud that at any given point, we can make it rain.”

DigitalC currently has coverage in 16 neighborhoods, with customers in the Phoenix Village apartments where it conducted its demonstrations, but it says coverage will be consistent across the city. Even if residents move within Cleveland, DigitalC says they will be able to keep their coverage.

“Getting residents connected is obviously the primary goal and the primary benefit to this initiative. However, secondary, tertiary ones, are [that] it is going to alter the marketplace here,” Edmonds said. “And we, obviously, being one of the historically least connected cities in the country could use some altering because clearly what we've been doing has not been working.”

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