Diversity & Inclusion
Communities / Digital access / Internet / Municipal government / Social justice

5 ways the City of Philadelphia can better support broadband access for its residents

Four members of the Technical.ly community shared ways in which they believe Philly can make progress on closing the digital divide. Among the recommendations: public Wi-Fi, transparency and mobile optimization.

Public Wi-Fi and transparency could be solutions to digital access, residents said. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user when I was a bird, used under a Creative Commons license)

A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia illustrated how not having access to a computer with broadband access can and often does limit one’s access to the labor force. It was another data point underscoring a reality that became more apparent during the pandemic: When it comes to digital access, there’s still work to be done to get everyone on a level playing field.

To follow up on the report, Techincal.ly asked the community, via our daily email newsletter, about how citizens can play a role in addressing the digital divide. Four professionals from the Greater Philadelphia area and beyond responded on what the City of Philadelphia can do better in addressing broadband access needs among its residents.

Empower youth to help get the word out about broadband in neighborhoods

Dr. Jane Shore is the head of research and innovation at Philadelphia high school The Revolution School and has given much thought to how communities could learn more about ways to gain access to broadband-enabled computers. She liked how the City’s Office of Youth Engagement enlisted young people to spread the word about voter registration in neighborhoods.

“Having young people serve as youth ambassadors for the introduction of broadband in neighborhoods and giving them a role both to indicate places where broadband access does not exist and also a role in helping teach [could help],” she said.

Award more funding for public libraries to serve as access points

Along with housing books, public libraries are hubs for internet connectivity, and device access. Data architect Eugene Desyatnik said that Philly public libraries could be better prioritized for funding this function.

“The libraries are crucial gateways to getting things done [like] applying for resources and assistance, filing taxes and searching for jobs,” he said. “Also, they are places neighbors can keep cool in heat waves like today. But my branch is open six hours a week, with many others offering no public hours at all.”

Cities can create public Wi-Fi hotspots for residents

Harrisburg resident Joel A. Kline, Ph. D is managing partner for Allegro Learning Solutions and keenly follows tech in Philadelphia. He believes Wi-Fi should be publicly accessible for free, or at a low cost for residents of all backgrounds.

“Public Wi-Fi and mobile-enabled engagement are the two most important contributions,” he said. “Very few cities have committed to a public Wi-Fi system, which could support some of the most marginalized populations.”

Companies can create HR and hiring functions that are more mobile-friendly

Kline also believes that companies and organizations put an unfair premium upon creating resources for desktop computers, and less for mobile devices. Given that mobile devices are more prevalent than other devices, this could expand access, he said.

“HR and hiring functions still seem to be very desktop computer based,” he said. “IRS forms, applications, PDFs with signatures and even job boards are rarely optimized for mobile devices. It puts prospects with mobile-only internet at a distinct disadvantage.”

Be transparent and speak about the need for better access for all residents.

Delaware life coach D. J. Bryant said that there is a need from City officials and stakeholders to speak more to the value of high quality access for all Philadelphia residents that remains unseen.

“One of the factors that exist is the lack of admittance that there is a lack,” he said. “Transparency is an issue. Most people won’t admit that there is a need that can be addressed by simply stating the need is here. That requires a great deal of courage and there’s a pride issue that stands in the way. Overcoming that hurdle can become a launchpad to getting people what they need.”

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 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.

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