Bringing digital equity to North Philly
Temple University has opened the Owl Hub to bridge the digital divide in North Philadelphia.
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On May 11, Temple University hosted Digital Equity Day, an event to promote digital equity in North Philadelphia and unveil its new Digital Equity Center at The Owl Hub.
There were around 20 exhibitors present at the event, including Comcast, Philly Community Wireless, and TechOWL. There were also workshops on earning certificates for jobs in tech and Internet safety held in the afternoon.
The project is focused on the eight ZIP codes that surround Temple’s campus. In his speech Temple’s Provost, Gregory Mandel noted that this project aligns with the strategic priorities of Jason Wingard, the university’s president, in how Temple engages with the surrounding communities.
Digital equity has been among the key initiatives Temple has worked to address, and unveiling of the new Digital Equity Center is just the latest example of that commitment.
PHLConnectED connects households with pre-K to 12-grade students with internet service through summer 2023. It will also provide people with digital skills training and tech support. Households can get either internet at home with Internet Essentials from Comcast, or a mobile hotspot from T-Mobile.
Households are eligible for the program “if they don’t have internet access, have only mobile phone internet access, are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, and have students who participate in remote learning in locations without internet access.”
If households do have internet access in their homes, they can qualify for the program “if they participate in public benefit programs with income qualifications like Medicaid, have students who are English Learners, have students who receive special education services.”
Philly Community Wireless (PCW) is an organization that is currently connecting homes in Norris Square with “free, net neutral broadband for at least the next decade.”
On its site, PCW references a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that found that in Philadelphia, 53% of Black residents and 44% of Latinx residents have broadband connections.
PCW uses mesh networks to provide internet access. It describes these mesh networks as a “distributed system of network routers which allow a single source of bandwidth to be shared among a broader group of users with very little cost or infrastructure required for connection.” This is different from traditional internet because it relies on multiple connected hubs instead of just one that distributes to multiple users.
TechOWL helps people with disabilities in Pennsylvania find tools and adaptive technology. Resources the organization has includes a Lending Library, 3D printing to make something custom, and used equipment that people can get for free. TechOWL is only available to those in Pennsylvania, but it educates people all over the world on disability through its social media platforms.
The goal of the Owl Hub is to provide the community with resources and education that helps bridge the digital divide and provide people with opportunities through access to technology, help desk support, and education on digital navigation and digital literacy.
“When it comes down to it we’re people. Temple has technology needs, Dell, Comcast, we need a workforce that can do these things. Temple at the same time we need students to come here and want to learn. We’re in North Philadelphia, right? The original president of Temple University, Russell Conwell, wrote this story about the acres of diamonds. So in these eight ZIP codes, we have to find these diamonds that we need to shine and bring here to be able to go to school, to work at Comcast, to work at Dell,” said Jonathan Latko, the Executive Director of Business Administration for Information Technology Services at Temple.