Civic News
Digital access / Municipal government

Wilco Electronic Systems is partnering with the City to assess Philadelphia’s digital divide

A phone call-based survey will run for one month to understand residents' needs when it comes to affordable, accessible internet connection and digital literacy.

Solar panels on a Philly roof. (Photo by Solar States courtesy of the City of Philadelphia)

The City of Philadelphia is partnering with Fort Washington-based communications company Wilco Electronic Systems on a survey assessing the digital access and internet needs of Philly residents.

At the end of last year, the Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) and the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia released a Philadelphia Households Internet Assessment request for proposal, and ultimately chose Wilco for the task. Wilco is assembling a team including Centri Tech, SSRS and John Horrigan, a senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, to build a survey. The survey will assess awareness about available internet options, barriers to internet access and how the City can incorporate user experience into future solutions.

Digital equity and access has been an issue the City has faced before, but it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic. Survey responses will help benchmark the progress of current programs, such as PHLConnectED, the City’s answer to closing the gap for digital learning. The data collected will also enable the City to create better-informed policy, programs and budget decisions as it moves forward on strategies for digital equity.

(Here’s a deep dive on how OIT shifted its strategy in the past year and launched a $10 million Operational Transformation Fund to pay for innovations, efficiencies and cost savings within local government.)

“For decades, Wilco has been dedicated to bridging technology gaps on behalf of the City of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable communities,” said Wilco CEO Brigitte Daniel Corbin, who has long been a digital access advocate herself, in a statement. “Gathering new, inclusive data that measures digital impact will be seminal to the City’s ongoing efforts to provide internet access and digital tools.”

The City said in its announcement Tuesday that the current public data surrounding internet access needs is outdated and doesn’t include the scope of the digital divide in 2021. The survey will run for one month, and will aim to determine how many households are without reliable broadband internet or internet-enabled devices at home as well as which homes have taken advantage of pandemic programs, such as PHLConnectED or the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit. It will also evaluate the satisfaction with internet services and try to understand the affordability of these services for households.

The survey will be conducted over the phone and will be available in six languages. SSRS, a nonpartisan public opinion research firm, will conduct the survey. Residents can look out for a caller ID of SSRS or a local 267 area code when receiving a call.

“Increasing digital equity has and will continue to be essential to the City’s work,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “Philadelphia has been a leading city in addressing digital equity, especially during the pandemic. With programs like PHLConnectED, we have successfully connected thousands of households while also recognizing there’s more work to be done.”

Kenney encouraged any household that receives a phone call to participate in the survey to take the time to respond and provide feedback.

“We will need our community’s input to overcome the digital divide,” he said.

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Wilco Electronic Systems

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