Philadelphia has both a digital divide and an entrepreneurship divide. Two new initiatives supported by telecommunications giant Verizon are the latest efforts from inside city government to shrink both.
Keyspot Innovation and Technology Centers, or KIT Centers, will be upgraded versions of the City of Philadelphia’s Keyspots, a network of around 50 public-access computer centers across the city. These centers are located in public, private and nonprofit organizations, including rec centers and Free Library of Philadelphia branches. Starting with eight locations, the KIT Centers will offer faster internet (300 Mbps), more programming and updated devices for use.
The Philadelphia Fund for Leadership, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, or Philadelphia FLIE, will create opportunities for collaboration, programming and funding for minority entrepreneurs. This initiative’s “organizing principle” is to create an externally focused fund to complement the City’s existing Innovation Fund, which makes grants to support technical projects within local government, said a spokesperson for the City’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT).
Infrastructure updates and program development are expected to be completed in summer 2021.
Verizon has previously contributed funding to the City’s Innovation Fund and Digital Literacy Alliance, which makes grants to external projects that aim to increase digital access for city residents, before this latest partnership, said OIT’s deputy CIO of innovation management, Andrew Buss. The corporation contributed approximately $150,000 to these new initiatives.
Most Keyspots have been closed during the pandemic, offering OIT and its partners the opportunity to rethink how the program could be better deployed, Buss said.
“The collaboration serves as a great example of a public-private partnership because both partners are committed to advancing digital equity through a combination of innovation and infrastructure — while also advancing the City’s innovation portfolio by reaching out to external stakeholders and their expertise for our grantmaking,” he told Technical.ly via email.
“OIT wanted to apply a similar framework to bring community innovators and entrepreneurs into the problem solving ecosystem,” she said, referring to the existing work of the Innovation Fund and the Digital Literacy Alliance. “There are so many residents and start-ups with fantastic ideas who lacked institutional knowledge or mentors or funding. OIT looked to build something that would make it easier for them to get a foot in the door of working with the City, both in formal and informal ways.
“This past year especially has highlighted the inequities that exist in access to all kinds of resources,” Pollack said. “We believe this new fund — Philadelphia FLIE — will help get better solutions while supporting people who haven’t been engaged in this level of problem solving before.”
The announcement of these new initiatives comes after the City issued an RFP to measure Philly’s digital divide. Per the RFP, the City and the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia “seek to understand the number of households that are currently without internet or relying on unstable, low bandwidth options, as a way to benchmark progress by the City and its partners to close the digital divide.”
“We envision an assessment with enough accuracy that will enable us to make the most informed policy, program and budget decisions possible regarding the City’s digital equity strategy,” reads the RFP.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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