One Economy, Part 1

By Todd Cohen

In its first five years, One Economy Corp. has championed connecting low-income people to affordable technology and online resources they can use to connect themselves to the marketplace and their communities.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has provided internet access to over 200,000 Americans in 80,000 low-income homes, and plugged eight million low-income people in 26 cities into online information in English and Spanish about money, jobs, health, school and family.

Now, One Economy wants to create a “public internet channel” that low-income people can use to get up-to-date emergency information, improve their economic livelihood, connect themselves and their families to education, and participate in civic life.

“We are helping to make a market of low-income people, but making sure that the market is one these people can participate in, that the costs are affordable,” says Ben Hecht, president and chief operating officer. “And once they’re online, there is something to do online, a destination where they can go and improve their lives.”

Founded by Hecht and Rey Ramsey, its CEO, One Economy grew out of their work as senior executives at The Enterprise Foundation in Columbia, Md., one of the largest investors in affordable housing in the United States.

Concluding that, in addition to affordable housing, low-income people needed better access to the increasingly competitive and global marketplace, Hecht and Ramsey formed One Economy to provide that access through affordable technology and online content focused on their practical, day-to-day needs.

Building a coalition of tech companies including Cisco Systems, eBay, Google, Intel, Interactive Corp., Microsoft and Yahoo!, One Economy worked with housing finance agencies in 42 states to change policies to ensure that free or low-cost broadband technology is available to residents of new affordable housing.

One Economy also has been working with local, state and federal officials to make broadband available in communities throughout the United States, particularly those in which private industry has opted not to invest.

In Greene County, a rural county in eastern North Carolina that is struggling economically with the decline of the tobacco industry, for example, One Economy has worked with local officials to develop a blueprint for building a broadband network, and to ensure that it provides a public benefit for low-income people.

“We are going to make sure that there is high-speed broadband available to everyone, and affordable to people historically kept out of it,” Hecht says. “It means they have not just access, but can also understand how to buy low-cost, affordable computers.”

The idea, he says, is to treat broadband like a public utility.

“Just like you see water and electricity ubiquitous in America and in every home,” Hecht says, “so should broadband be in every house, in every home across the country, because it is the foundation for connecting people to economic opportunities worldwide.”

One Economy also has developed, a website featuring information and resources for low-income people about jobs, money, health and child care.

Customized with local information, the Beehive now serves 26 cities.

Other stories in series:

Part 2: Online marketplace emerging for low-income consumers.

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