Connecting Your City: Strategies to Increase Digital Access and Literacy, Part 1

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This is a guest post by Sheila Dugan, and the first in a series on how cities can improve digital literacy in their communities.

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EveryoneOn worked with Best Buy, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the DC Housing Authority to provide training to D.C. residents.

Cities across the United States are innovating. From Boston to San Francisco, they are leveraging technology to improve the delivery of social services, increase transparency, and better communicate with their constituents.

Using customized web applications, residents can now apply for library cards, request public records, communicate with councilmembers, and request for a pothole to be fixed online.

These are promising initiatives but many residents cannot take advantage of these new services designed to forge stronger connections between them and their government. One in four households do not have access to the Internet at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This rate increases for low-income and minority households, as well as those lead by seniors.

Without finding a way for all households to have reliable, high-speed Internet access at home, our nation is at risk of isolating some of our most vulnerable communities. As a national nonprofit devoted to closing the digital divide, EveryoneOn works with cities to help them become more digitally inclusive as local leaders strive to find ways to better communicate with residents. The following strategies can help cities create a more connected, digitally literate population.

Educate yourself.

Many city officials and community leaders aren’t aware that help may be available, making it unlikely that they will direct their constituents to resources that will help them get online. It’s important to know what services your community is already providing through libraries, schools, and other community anchor institutions.

So that efforts aren’t duplicated and resources can be equally distributed, it is important to have this information aggregated to ensure that new resources can be distributed equally.   EveryoneOn features a zip code locator to discover low-cost Internet service, WiFi access, public computers, and training courses.

Bring your local stakeholders together.

The first step in closing the digital divide is to understand your community’s resources. Do you know where an individual should go to use a computer? Where can a senior go to learn how to use Skype to connect with their grandchildren? Where are the public WiFi hotspots?

In April 2014, Oakland, CA opened their City Hall to groups interested in closing the digital divide in their community. City workers, community activists, and nonprofit leaders gathered to understand how to sign up their constituents for low-cost Internet service, purchase discounted computers, and locate digital literacy trainings. Workshop participants emerged energized, empowered, and ready to tackle their community’s challenges. This could not have happened without the City creating a space to discuss how to tackle this challenge.

Make strategic financial investments.

Devoted to making technology easier to use, accessible, and affordable, Connect.DC, Washington, D.C.’s digital literacy initiative, set aside $25,000 to subsidize home modems, Internet service and computers. The organization also devoted itself to connecting 1,000 D.C. households and distributing 500 computers with EveryoneOn. This allows them to aggressively pursue the neediest populations and overcome one of the largest barriers to broadband adoption – cost.

Collaborate with non-profits and other community-based organizations.

This work cannot be done alone. Connect.DC and EveryoneOn are leveraging their partnerships with nonprofits based in the District of Columbia to identify households that could benefit from Internet access. Nonprofits in your community can help you determine who is eligible for your new technology program and distribute subsidized devices.

Cities can play a key role in closing the digital divide. This includes getting the right people around the table to assess the community’s needs and develop targeted solutions. Cities can also set specific, measurable goals to improve access to broadband and make modest investments to lower the financial burden to connect households. By focusing on connecting all residents, cities will be able to fully harness the power of new online tools designed to better connect people with their government.

To learn more about working with Everyone On, visit EveryoneOn.org.

Sheila Dugan Headshot (Digital Literacy Blog 1)About the author: Sheila Dugan is the Marketing and Communications Manager at EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate the digital divide by making high-speed, low-cost Internet, computers, and free digital literacy accessible to all unconnected Americans.