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Digital access / Education / Technology

Philly’s Digital Navigators program is expanding to the suburbs

The digital navigators program will now available to residents in Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Delaware counties.

Comcast gave away laptops for the digital navigator organizations. (Courtesy Comcast)
Full disclosure: This article mentions Comcast, a client. That relationship has no impact on this report.

The Digital Navigators program is coming to a suburb near you.

Comcast and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey announced plans last week to expand the Digital Navigator network to the counties surrounding Philadelphia.

Now, residents of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties will all have access to Digital Navigators when they call 211, the United Way-run hotline that connects Philadelphians with social services.

This initiative is being funded by a $317,000 grant from Comcast as part of Project UP, the company’s $1 billion commitment to digital equity.

“Digital Navigators and their work at the neighborhood level building digital skills and awareness of resources to help get residents online are critical to closing the digital divide,” said Dan Bonelli, SVP for Comcast’s Freedom Region, in a written statement. “We are proud to support this innovative effort to meet residents where they are and make it easy for them to reach out and get the help needed to take advantage of all that the Internet has to offer.”

The Digital Navigators program was established in Philadelphia in 2020 as a digital support system for city residents. The Digital Navigators can offer tech support, assist with connecting to the internet and inform callers about digital literacy and internet resources that may be available to them — including the federal Affordable Connectivity Program.

The overall program is run by the City of Philadelphia and the United Way. The ExCITe Center at Drexel University, SEAMAAC and Beyond Literacy are the three organizations in the city that have Digital Navigator programs.

As part of this expansion, those three organizations will collaborate with community organizations in the surrounding counties such as ACLAMO, Chester Education Foundation, Esperanza, Literacy Council of Norristown and Media Fellowship House.

“Volunteers, staff at social service agencies, libraries, schools, other community organizations, the [digital navigator] programs work because the staff members are trained to facilitate this education and this adoption,” said Christina Wiskowski, senior director for digital equity at Comcast, during a presentation at the annual Technology Learning Collaborative (TLC) Conference last week. “It’s all about that one-on-one contact, that continual education and building that trust.”

Kieran Farrell, director of student support services at Beyond Literacy, said at the TLC conference that as digital navigators, the staff at Beyond Literacy addresses learners’ challenges one by one, starting with getting a device and connecting them with the resources to come to digital literacy classes so they can learn how to use it.

“Folks have all kinds of different challenges to fully be able to engage and it’s really your job just to really get in there and try to support that,” said Farrell. “Then follow up with them to make sure they didn’t just get a referral for a resource, but they were able to actually access the resource and be able to have some change happen.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Technology Learning Collaborative / City of Philadelphia / Comcast / ExCITe Center

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