The Student Internet Equity Coalition: Former Comcast exec starts advocacy non-profit during pandemic
Ursula V. Battle | 4/2/2021, 6 a.m.
Donna Rattley Washington’s resume is impressive. She is a former law partner, cable system General Manager, and Board Chair and Interim CEO of Edbuild, an organization that works to bring fairness to the way states fund public schools. The attorney is also a former Board Member of City Year Washington, DC, which seeks to develop the skills and mindsets of children and young adults.
Rattley Washington’s leadership background spans 20 years and includes education, digital adoption, legislative affairs, management, and telecommunica- tions. Most recently, she worked as an Executive for Comcast’s Mid-Atlantic region, helping the rollout of Internet Essentials the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, and most successful broadband adoption program in America. However when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation and the rest of the world, Rattley Washington did not stay in Corporate America— she left it, jumping out on a leap of faith.
Rattley Washington is the Founder of the Student Internet Equity Coalition, a non-profit that seeks to provide high-quality subsidized and discounted Internet and computer access for middle and high school students.
“I decided to leave Corporate America and do mission-based work,” said Rattley Washington. “I just wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do. I was appalled by the fact that the pandemic was resulting in kids not learning at all if they did not have the technology at home. I had the background, skills and most importantly the passion to advocate for those things based on the Internet Essentials model.
“I interviewed a mom who said she had two kids— one who has autism. She told me she did not have a second computer until last May. Up until that time she said that her daughter used the one computer and that she and her Autistic son used her mobile phone four hours of day to complete his homework. That went beyond belief for me. The mom said she traditionally went to the library for them to do their homework but due to the pandemic, the libraries were all closed. I realized I had the network and understanding and needed to do something.”
The Student Internet Equity Coalition is a national effort that brings together policy makers, advocates, educators, and business leaders to work together towards ensuring middle and high school students have computer and Internet access.
“One in five teens report not being able to complete their homework because they lack connectivity and computers,” said Rattley Washington. “I realized everyone was trying to figure out how kids could get the Internet, but that no one was focusing on long- terms solutions. Black folks and poor families are the
most affected, and the numbers tell us that it’s a cost issue. To know that one in five Black families did not have the Internet and computers was troubling to me. That’s what prompted me to start the Student Internet Equity Coalition in April 2020— right smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. I wanted to connect students with technology.”
A native of the District of Columbia, Rattley Washington holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Brandeis University and a JD from Georgetown University Law Center. She credits her legal work as a partner with the law firm Davis, Wright & Tremaine, with teaching her how to address the unique challenges associated with scaling services to communities across the country.
Rattley Washington said the Student Internet Equity Coalition also includes two attorneys and collaboratively, the three are working on getting legislation to Congress that would help address the nation’s digital divide.
“The name Student Internet Equity Coalition came to me in that all students needed to have equitable access to computer and Internet technology,” she said. “This is where it starts. Digital inequality equals economic and educational inequity. If you are not connected digitally, you are disadvantaged because your educational and economic opportunities will be unequal. Being an African American woman and running community impact initiatives for Comcast and other entities was tremendous. It allowed me to meet community goals and do community work.
“I want to give back and help low-income families. My father and mother worked for the Federal Government. As a result, my siblings and I had advantages, such as our parents putting us all through college. It’s all about advocacy and I am working hard to level the playing field. Ultimately, the legacy I want to leave behind is that every child in America going to the sixth grade has a computer and the Internet.”
To learn more about the Student Internet Equity Coalition, visit https://studentinternetequitycoalition.org/