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Innovation Challenge

The California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge is an open, global competition that will award up to $1 million to the boldest proposals to eliminate the digital divide and expand high speed internet across California.

California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge

The Challenge

The California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge is an open, global competition that mobilizes inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and other innovators from public and private sectors to develop technology and strategic partnerships for universal affordable broadband internet access across the state. We will greenlight the boldest proposals driving collaborative solutions that can help all learners immediately and include Californian students, educators, and families.

California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge Logo

The Need

When school campuses across California closed due to COVID-19 in March of last year, six million students had to continue their education from home. The harsh reality is that, even with substantial systemic efforts over the last several months, almost a fifth of our students cannot participate in digital distance learning.

The digital divide impacts our students of color and low-income students at disproportionate rates. The rate of students without a computing device are lower than those without internet access, for example nationwide:

  • 25 percent of African American students and their families do not have access to the internet, and 13 percent do not have access to computers.
  • 21 percent of Hispanic or Latino students do not have access to the internet, and 9 percent do not have access to computers.
  • 30 percent of American Indian students do not have access to the internet, and 16 percent do not have access to computers.
  • 14 percent of White students do not have access to the internet, and 7 percent do not have access to computers.

As most schools remain partially or fully virtual, students who already experienced difficulties studying from home prior to the pandemic have seen negative impacts and learning loss compound post-COVID: homework, research, and preparation for career opportunities are nearly impossible without reliable access to the internet. Whether rooted in limited rural and frontier infrastructure or lack of urban affordability, one thing is clear: Without equitable access to computing devices and connectivity, students throughout the state are being deprived of their right and opportunity to learn or prepare for their futures.

Guidelines

The timeframe of the competition runs from March to August 2021.

Inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and other innovators from public and private sectors are invited to compete in this challenge.

All competitors must test their innovation with students experiencing a lack of connectivity either due to barriers of affordability or infrastructure. The California Department of Education (CDE) will assist in identifying schools/students to testing the innovation. The pairing will be referred to as a “Challenge Team.” The testing may include engaging students and educators in the testing of connectivity and STEAM-related lessons to test innovation.

  • Testing of connectivity will be over a period of six months,* with monthly webinar check-ins with Challenge Teams and the CDE.
  • To ensure solutions are developed in accordance with local connectivity needs and are viable concepts, teams will be required to present the technological solution that provides:
  1. Universal high-speed internet access across the state, including rural and urban communities;
  2. Cost of no more than $15/month per household;
  3. 100 megabits synchronous upload and download speed with no data caps;
  4. Fully deployable implementation within a year.
  • After the six-month period,* teams will present and demonstrate their connectivity solution to a panel of experts in the field of connectivity.
  • Judging will be conducted by the panel based on success in fulfilling the need of stable innovative connectivity, affordability, and viability of deployment ability within a year.
  • Winner(s) will be awarded the cash prize at the conclusion of judging.
Timeline
Date Activity
March 1, 2021 Launch Competition
March 2, 2021 Online Application Available
March 4, 2021 Competition Informational Webinar
April 1, 2021 Launch Innovation Connectivity Testing
April–August 2021 Monthly competitor check-ins with judging panel
September 2021 Final Judging and Awarding of cash prize to winner/s of the Challenge. (Note: One or more teams may share the cash prize.)


*The competition may end prior to the six-month testing period if a connectivity innovation is identified and tested prior to the end of the six-month timeframe. The competition and judging will take place at that time.

Questions:   Superintendent's Initiatives Office | innovationchallenge@cde.ca.gov
Last Reviewed: Friday, April 9, 2021