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Detroit Hires Its First Director of Digital Inclusion

The role, which will be filled by Joshua Edmonds, is aimed at helping the city address digital equity issues, specifically when it comes to expanding access to the Internet for residents of Detroit.

Detroit has hired its first director of digital inclusion, making it one of a growing number of cities to have a full-time employee within its government tackling issues of digital equity.

The city, which announced the hire Wednesday, tapped Joshua Edmonds to fill the new role. Edmonds comes to the city from Cleveland, where he previously worked in the digital inclusion space. In Cleveland, Edmonds helped lead the deployment of more than $1.5 million of investments related to digital equity through The Cleveland Foundation, an influential community foundation in the Ohio city.

Before working with the Cleveland Foundation, Edmonds was with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. In that capacity, he participated in President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative, which fostered partnerships between localities, private companies and government at the federal level, all in the service of increasing the number of households nationwide with high-speed Internet.

Detroit presently has one of the highest rates of residents who lack high-speed Internet of any city in the nation, with some studies reporting that as many as 40 percent of all Detroiters don’t have access at home. The new director of digital inclusion will work directly with the Department of Innovation and Technology. He will be tasked with developing a citywide strategy that will help Detroit improve on those numbers.

“My goal is to make Detroit a national model for digital inclusion,” Edmonds said in a statement. “The recipe for successful digital inclusion in every city boils down to four things: partnerships, funding, engaged residents and political will. I believe Detroit has every one of those points in excess. I'm excited to build relationships and do something bold.”

Positions such as this one are still relatively rare, compared to more widespread tech and innovation roles within local government such as CIO or even chief data officer. They are, however, increasing in prevalence as high-speed Internet becomes seen as less of a luxury and closer to something like a utility, vital for obtaining necessities such as health care, education and employment.

In fact, this chart from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance shows that as many as 10 cities — ranging from Boston to Washington, D.C. — now have full-time staff dedicated to digital inclusion work. In that way, Edmonds joins a growing fellowship of public servants engaged in the work.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.