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Mayor Ed Murray.
Mayor Ed Murray.

The City of Seattle’s commitment to increase digital literacy and give more citizens Internet access is going from “vision” to “action” today.

Mayor Ed Murray announced Phase II of the city’s Digital Equity Initiative Action Plan on Wednesday, outlining how government will provide equitable technology opportunities for Seattle residents and communities.

The impetus for the initiative came about after the city released a study in 2014 that showed how at least 15 percent of Seattle residents have no Internet service at home, a number that increased even more for lower education, low-income, seniors, disabled, minorities, and immigrant communities.

“This is a city known for its innovation and technology,” Mayor Murray said today at the Yesler Community Center. “It’s a global hub of innovation, of e-commerce, of software development, and high-tech manufacturing. Yet many residents of this city do not have sufficient access to Internet.”

(Kurt Schlosser, GeekWire)
(Kurt Schlosser, GeekWire)

The city gathered stakeholders, experts, and community members last year to develop the initiative’s foundational plan and strategy. Now, the city has specific action items to begin rolling out digital access to those with the greatest need.

This year, the city will invest $1.6 million on the initiative, which has three pillars:

  • Technology training — “Create and deliver educational opportunities for all residents to gain technology skills necessary to be successful in employment, entrepreneurship and technology leadership, lifelong learning, civic engagement, and use of essential online services.”
  • Internet connectivity — “Ensure there are sufficient options for affordable and available Internet connectivity for all historically underrepresented residents, small businesses, organizations, and communities.”
  • Technical/device support — “Ensure there are affordable, available, and sufficient devices and technical support for all historically underrepresented residents, small businesses, organizations, and communities.”

You can see the specific action plans for each pillar here.

“We need to do better,” Murray said today. “We stepped up on minimum wage; on utility rate discounts; on affordable housing. We have to step up on the digital divide.”

Amy Hirotaka, chair of the Community Technology Advisory Board that helped craft the initiative’s action plan, last month emphasized the importance of making technology more accessible for a variety of reasons, like cyber safety and increased productivity.

“People without internet access spend more time doing things that we might take for granted,” Hirotaka said last month. “They can’t use things like online banking, so instead they take time to go to the bank and wait in line.”

The city is also getting help from the private sector. Google will donate $344,000 in grants to provide free WiFi for 800 low-income housing units and for 26 community centers in Seattle.

Comcast, meanwhile, is expanding the eligibility criteria for its discounted Internet service to all public housing residents in Seattle, along with low-income seniors. This is partly a result of a new franchise agreement the city inked with Comcast this past December.

The city also announced that a total of $320,000 will be awarded via its annual Technology Matching Fund awards, which supports projects that share the same goals as the Digital Equity Initiative. Applications are due May 4.

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