In 2014, City Councilmember Kriss Worthington directed the City Manager to address the digital divide by making technologies more accessible for moderate- and low-income residents of Berkeley. To discover opportunities to achieve this goal, the City of Berkeley hired Nutter Consulting to survey similar projects and initiatives that cities have undertaken across the country. We researched RFPs, feasibility studies, city websites, press releases, digital equity strategic plans, and broadband plans from 21 cities, culminating in a matrix of best practices.
To supplement this research, we also conducted multiple stakeholder interviews to uncover keys for success and lessons learned. Our ultimate goal was to equip policy-makers with the knowledge necessary to make informed and effective decisions to improve digital equity in Berkeley.
From our research, we were both surprised and impressed at the number of cities pursuing innovative ways to increase digital equity in their communities. The cities we surveyed primarily used dimensions of access and affordability to define their equity goals, making it easier for moderate- to low-income residents to get online.
Cities are also working toward equity goals in other creative ways. The City of San Jose partnered with the East Side Union High School District to transform their schools into Internet hotspots, providing free outdoor Wi-Fi for students, families and community members. Pilot schools also have devices to lend to students who aren’t able to access the Internet at home. Pushing beyond just helping students finish homework, the City hopes that the students of this generation will become the “digital inclusion force” that will eliminate the digital divide.
In Austin, the City created a Grant for Technology Opportunities Program (GTOP). Not only does the City offer individual grants of $10,000 to $25,000 to community organizations and nonprofits, but they also offer technology grants of refurbished computers. Both access to funds and devices have proven to be crucial to help organizations who are addressing the digital divide in their communities.
After delivering these and other findings about programs and best practices, we were excited to see the City of Berkeley taking steps in the same direction to address the digital divide locally.
On Saturday, September 15th, 2018, the City of Berkeley is hosting their first Berkeley Tech Fair at the public library. This fair will host a centralized display of the opportunities for digital inclusion provided for low-income residents. Through this fun community event, residents can explore education technology learning tools, sign up for low-cost Internet with Comcast, explore local technology programs, and access free refurbished desktop computers.
For more information about the event, please visit their Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/2063394013974293/