Opportunity has become closely tied to internet access. Workplaces are recruiting online, many educational tools and courses have gone digital, and people are using online resources to start their own businesses. But while the internet provides a gateway to opportunity for many, those without internet connectivity are being left behind.

Truist Foundation saw this digital divide rapidly increasing among residents in the communities it operates in. We’re dedicated to building career pathways to economic mobility and strengthening small businesses for racially and ethnically diverse entrepreneurs—and wanted to find a way to help.

An aligned approach to philanthropy

The Truist Foundation team knew it needed the support of internet connectivity experts and got in contact with Internet Society. This nonprofit organization works with communities to provide the resources they need to build their networks and take advantage of the opportunities the internet offers.

“It was clear that Truist’s approach to connecting communities aligned with our values,” said Mark Buell, Internet Society’s regional vice president for North America. “Like Truist Foundation, at the Internet Society, we don’t parachute into a neighborhood and drop off money. Instead, we work closely with the communities to provide training, support, and ongoing check-ins.”

Truist awarded the Internet Society a $1 million grant to establish the Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) program. Both organizations carefully selected five communities within Truist markets to partner with to establish broadband connections, spread the word about the new access, and train communities on how to use the internet.

© Elyse Butler    

Hosein Badran, Director for Internet Growth and Trust at the Internet Society, working together with the community during a network deployment training session in Pu'uhonua O Waimanalo, Hawaii.

“The communities we selected were hard-hit by COVID, and a huge part of that was kids not being able to go to school online,” said Buell. “What we saw were marginalized communities getting even further marginalized through COVID.”

In addition to targeting historically excluded populations, Truist Foundation and the Internet Society looked for neighborhoods with community champions—residents they knew would help drive the internet deployment process. The town of Wilson, North Carolina, was a perfect match.

A stable connection changes a rural community

Wilson created a local enterprise utility called Greenlight Community Broadband to deploy broadband internet to its residents. When Truist approached Wilson, Greenlight had already launched broadband connections in urban parts of the community but wanted to expand the project into rural areas. 

Residents of Wilson at a Greenlight pop-up learning about the enterprise’s internet connectivity services.

“We knew expediting deployment to more people was going to be a challenge, but this grant provided us with the support to make it happen,” said Greenlight general manager Will Aycock.

Greenlight has completed the internet deployment phase of the project, providing an opportunity for all of Wilson’s nearly 50,000 residents to gain access to consistent, affordable broadband connectivity. Greenlight also hosted several community pop-ups to raise awareness about the new services, answer questions about connectivity, and teach residents how to benefit from the service. 

“We have been internet users since 1996, but not without challenges,” said Janice, a resident of Wilson County. “Before, we endured weekly issues with outages or poor connections. Greenlight provided no-hassle services at reasonable rates. Having quality internet has given us a stable connection to resources, education, world affairs, work, and so much more.” 

Breaking down barriers

Wilson is developing an internet literacy program that will teach residents how to use the internet to connect, learn, and engage with their community. Residents will receive instruction on how to access online courses and reach employers, bolstering their career readiness and opening pathways to employment.

“At Truist Foundation, we understand we bear a specific responsibility to partner with organizations like [Internet Society] to co-create initiatives that drive lasting change,” said Lynette Bell, president of Truist Foundation. “Giving these communities stable, affordable broadband internet access will open up a whole new world and remove some of those barriers they face.”

Internet Society and Truist Foundation partnered with Greenlight, a utility enterprise, to expand internet access and teach residents about connectivity in Wilson, North Carolina.

By early 2022, residents in Wilson; Tuskegee, Alabama; Williston, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Jacksonville, Florida, will have access to broadband internet connection. Truist Foundation issued a second grant of $1.5 million to expand support to seven additional communities across Truist markets. 

“Truist Foundation’s work goes far beyond a corporate social responsibility program—their community-driven approach creates a lasting impact on communities,” said Buell. “Truist Foundation is an excellent partner because it’s dedicated to making a positive change in the world.”

See more stories about the work Truist Foundation is doing.

About Truist Foundation

The Truist Foundation is committed to Truist Financial Corporation’s (NYSE: TFC) purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities. Established in 2020, the foundation makes strategic investments in nonprofit organizations to help ensure the communities it serves have more opportunities for a better quality of life. The Truist Foundation’s grants and activities focus on leadership development, economic mobility, thriving communities and educational equity. 

About the Internet Society

Founded in 1992 by Internet pioneers, the Internet Society (ISOC) is a global non-profit organization working to ensure the Internet remains a force for good for everyone. Through its community of members, special interest groups, and 130+ chapters around the world, the organization defends and promotes Internet policies, standards, and protocols that keep the Internet open, globally-connected, and secure. For more information, please visit: internetsociety.org.