The five-year plan describes how the city will address affordability of broadband and devices and tackle the fundamental issues that contribute to the digital divide: barriers of language, race, limited digital literacy skills and disabilities.
Philadelphia launched its first Digital Equity Plan, laying out key goals and strategies to address the issues that contribute to the digital divide.
The plan describes how the city will address affordability and access to broadband and devices. It also tackles barriers of language, race, limited digital literacy skills, disabilities – the factors that contribute to the digital divide in Philadelphia. It is intended to serve as a roadmap for digital equity for the next five years.
Key strategies include building the city's capacity to advance digital equity through existing programs, gaining support from state and local governments and creating revenue-generating streams to support digital equity programs.
Consistent benchmarking will inform strategic planning, so the city plans to conduct an annual household internet survey to identify broadband access gaps, collect data on new and existing broadband infrastructure and develop emerging tech solutions to improve digital equity.
The city also aims to incorporate subsidized broadband services into a broader universal benefits application. It plans to help city departments move to web-based forms, support residents with low digital literacy and work with the health sector to encourage residents to use digital care tools.
While Philadelphia's Office of Innovation and Technology has focused on digital equity for over 10 years, the pandemic brought these issues into the spotlight, officials said.
“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,” city CIO Mark Wheeler said. “The creation of the Digital Equity Plan and the official decree of the policy will help the City better address the various issues that contribute to the digital divide. Philadelphia’s digital equity work now has a strong foundation through better resourcing, strategies, goals, and an overall understanding of the city’s needs.”
An executive order signed by Mayor James Kenney on Feb. 9 called for the city's agencies to use their "assets and infrastructure to develop accessible and reliable digital solutions for Philadelphia residents." The city will also leverage public, private, philanthropic and community support to coordinate access to computers, broadband internet and digital literacy programs.
“Philadelphia will continue its diligent work toward establishing digital equity for all,” Kenney said. “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.”