PHILADELPHIA—In case you missed it, Philly recently published an article about the City of Philadelphia’s plans to provide affordable, simple, and reliable digital access solutions for all residents. The COVID-19 pandemic affected Philadelphia drastically and reinforced the need to focus on digital equity across the city.

The City’s initiative includes three core strategies:

  • Ensuring all K-12 public school students have consistent access to the technology, internet, and support that they need to engage in remote learning in the fall of 2020 and the beyond.
  • Reimagining the future of public computing centers, including KEYSPOTS, in the context of a limited budget, COVID-19, and social distancing, and creating more in-home access for students and their families.
  • Guaranteeing that all Philadelphians have access to affordable and reliable digital solutions so they can work and access everything from education to training to healthcare and other essential online services.

The City will create a Digital Equity Coordinating Committee that includes cross-departmental collaboration among various offices. The committee will work with a broad range of stakeholders and communities to create solutions. The Digital Literacy Alliance will also take on a leadership role and act as an advisory board that oversees this work.

This blog post includes more details the City’s plans.

The full text from the recent Philly article is below.

Here’s how the City of Philadelphia plans to approach digital access ussies over the next few months Philly // Paige Gross

As it remains clear that thousands of adults — and possibly thousands of children — will remain home for the next few months amid the COVID-19 pandemic, top of mind for many Philadelphians and public servants is the status of internet access across the city and the ability to use it for work and school.

The Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) rolled out its IT Strategic Plan, a public-facing plan and set of strategies to drive innovation and change within city government, in October. Its intent is to address how OIT and other City departments can solves challenges in response to public needs, and one of its six main pillars stated at the time was to strive for digital access and equity.

As the pandemic swept the region in March, the office has had to look at the topic with renewed focus. It became clear that there are many households, especially with school-aged children, that are not connected to internet or don’t have devices to do online schooling or work, as was discussed during a recent City Council budget hearing.

This week, City officials spoke exclusively with about how it would be addressing digital equity in the months going forward. A policy initiative, put forth by the Mayor’s Office and called the Digital Equity Coordinating Committee, will aim to connect community stakeholders to ensure Philadelphians who need access to internet and technology will be able to get it.

“COVID has deeply impacted us,” Maari Porter, the deputy chief of staff for policy and strategic initiatives, told “We knew the digital divide was important before, but the pandemic amplified it.”

The committee will be made up of existing offices OIT, the Mayor’s Office, the Office of Children and Families and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, among others. City officials also said it will lean on organizations with similar goals, such as the Digital Literacy Alliance, which recently rolled out its digital navigator program to help low-income residents access and use technology during the pandemic.

The committee will use three key strategies to create “affordable, simple and reliable digital solutions” for residents. It’s part of what Porter called a “long-term play” toward digital equity in the city.

Giving students in grades kindergarten through 12 consistent access to technology, internet and technical support is a top priority. Other priorities are reimagining how the City’s free KEYSPOTS computer labs can help residents gain access, and providing sustainable digital solutions so residents can participate in workforce education, healthcare, public benefits and the like.

According to Deputy Chief Information Officer for Innovation Management Andrew Buss, 10% of students in Philadelphia’s school district have transient home lives and move between multiple households. Wi-Fi hotspots, for instance, could address that and would allow more students to practice virtual learning wherever they are; Buss said that the Mayor’s Office has had discussions with “incumbent telecom” companies and cell phone providers about possible solutions moving forward.

The Digital Equity Coordinating Committee’s goal is to begin executing on its priorities by the end of the summer. With the School District of Philadelphia expected to release its own plan this week around reopening, the City’s plan will also shift once the school district’s is officially in place.

While the Mayor’s Office has a great deal of optimism about its new digital equity work, Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney was clear about the scale of work ahead that’s needed to get one-to-one devices to students.

“That’s going to take some time and a lot of data sharing,” he said.