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Philly unveils new five-year plan to improve digital equity

The Digital Equity Plan will seek to bridge the digital divide among Philadelphians.

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On Feb. 15, Mayor Jim Kenney signed a new executive order to address the digital equity needs of Philadelphia. 

The Digital Equity Plan is a five-year initiative that lays out key goals and strategies needed to address the inequities that are contributing to the city’s digital divide. 

“The executive order establishes a policy that emphasizes the importance of digital equity for our city and enables the creation of the city-wide Digital Equity Plan,” said Mayor Kenney in a statement. “As the City works to achieve digital access for all Philadelphians, we will continue to invest in and support resources within the Office of Innovation and Technology to drive this work as well as expand cross-departmental collaboration to implement the policy and plan.”

Among the digital equity policy includes utilizing City assets and infrastructure to develop accessible and reliable digital solutions for Philadelphia residents, leveraging public, private, philanthropic and community interests and resources to coordinate public access to computers, broadband internet, and digital literacy programming, and focusing on the resource needs of residents of color and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. 

The Plan also describes how the City will confront issues of affordability and access to broadcast and devices. In addition, it will address intersecting barriers that contribute to the city’s digital divide, such as language, race, limited digital literacy skills, disabilities and more. 

In 2021, the City released the Household Internet Assessment Survey, an assessment on the positive impact of investments to promote digital advancement.

The survey found that 16% of Philadelphia households lack high-speed, broadband internet service, 19% of Philadelphians lack a working desktop, and nearly one-third of Philadelphia workers have limited or no digital skills. 

Since it was created over a decade ago, the City’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) has put digital equity at the forefront. However, the pandemic has made the consequences of the digital divide even more glaring to everyday life.

“The pandemic has shown that internet and device access is essential for daily living — including accessing health care and government services, closing the homework gap, and supporting a 21st century workforce,” said Mark Wheeler, Philly’s chief information officer, noting the value of the new Digital Equity Plan. 

“Philadelphia’s digital equity work now has a strong foundation through better resourcing, strategies, goals, and an overall understanding of the city’s needs,” he added. 

Digital Equity Plan’s Goals and Objectives 

The Digital Equity Plan lays out four goals:

  • Philadelphians can access appropriate and affordable technology devices
  • Philadelphians can access and afford the internet connectivity they need
  • Philadelphians develop the digital skills necessary for work and life
  • Philadelphia grows and sustains the capacity and infrastructure required to increase digital equity.

The Plan also unveils three primary objectives: 

  • Funding crucial initiatives that support digital equity across Philadelphia, including PHLConnectED, Digital Navigators, the City’s network of public computing centers, digital literacy courses, and more
  • Engaging with the Commonwealth about digital equity needs, particularly as it develops policies for the distribution of federal dollars 
  • Forming public-private partnerships to encourage businesses and anchor institutions to engage in digital equity work and highlighting how overcoming the digital divide will benefit all communities and sectors in Philadelphia. 

Dr. Christine Piven, executive director of adult education in the Office of Children and Families, classified the Digital Equity Plan as “a strong, detailed blueprint for bringing true and lasting equity to digital access and literacy,” which, she said, “are cornerstones of adult education in Philadelphia.”

The Digital Equity Plan was created with input from dozens of community members, advocates, and other stakeholders engaged in digital equity-related work. The Household Internet Assessment Survey was also used to inform the Plan. 

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