Using Data to Promote Digital Advancement in Philadelphia_
Broadband adoption in Philadelphia
households is increasing:
Discount offers make a difference:
especially for K-12 and low-income households. More than half of the increase in digital adoption is due to free or discount programs.
Connectivity is tenuous:
⅓ of broadband-connected households are subscription-vulnerable
The bottom line is the bottom line.
Affordability of broadband or hardware is the chief barrier preventing people from getting online.
Source: John Horrigan
In 2020, the City of Philadelphia, like most cities and towns across the country, faced the challenge of how best to serve and educate its residents during the most deadly global pandemic in a century. School systems, in particular, struggled with the balancing act between ensuring public safety and providing continuous education to their students. For its own part, Philadelphia had been working to address disparities in digital access for well over a decade, but now, with the issue taking on greater urgency, city officials mobilized to extend digital access to as many households as possible. The City launched PHLConnected, a program to support remote learning, and connected eligible pre-K–12 households in need of reliable access to free internet service.
“Increasing digital equity has and will continue to be essential to the City’s work. Philadelphia has been a leading city in addressing digital equity, especially during the pandemic. With programs like PHLConnectED, we have successfully connected thousands of households while also recognizing there’s more work to be done.”
- Mayor Jim Kenney, City of Philadelphia
Heading into the second year of the pandemic, the City needed fresh data and insights to inform its digital equity strategy and decided to implement a survey to better understand the digital access needs of its residents in the pandemic. Publicly available data from the 2019 American Community Survey was insufficient to accurately capture the current state of Philadelphia’s digital access, and a more direct approach to gather local data was required. Together, Centri Tech and Centri Tech Foundation joined forces with Wilco Electronic Systems, broadband researcher Dr. John B. Horrigan, and research firm SSRS to help the City launch the 2021 Household Internet Assessment Survey.
“Philadelphia’s citywide survey examined not just the size of the city’s digital divide, but also residents’ views on whether digital tools meet their connectivity needs for critical purposes such as schoolwork and telehealth. The survey also examined reasons why people lack critical tools for access and thereby help inform strategies to close gaps for households with children, low-income households, older adults, and communities of color.”
- John Horrigan, former Research Director for the National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission.
In October 2021, survey data drawn from 2,500 phone interviews showed that, over the course of the pandemic, the City of Philadelphia leveraged discount internet programs to significantly increase digital access by as much as 14 points since 2019 and 84% of Philadelphians were now connected to high-speed internet service at home.
At a time when most cities were relying on outdated census data to inform digital equity efforts, Philadelphia produced a fresh new data set and positioned itself to plan not only for a continued response to the pandemic, but also for a sustainable future for all Philadelphians.
In February 2022, the City of Philadelphia released its 5-year Digital Equity Plan informed by the results and research from the 2021 Philadelphia Household Internet Assessment Survey.
A recognition of our country’s growing “digital divide” takes early hold among policy advocates, spurring public and private efforts to connect the unconnected via public access points, such as libraries and newly-formed “community technology centers.”
First home Broadband installations begin, with about 2.5% of American households connected via an “always-on” Internet connection, surpassing the speed of dial-up connections which maxxed out at 56Kbps.
A new nonprofit organization, One Economy Corporation, forms to help bring internet connectivity, content, and training to low-Income Americans as a means to combat poverty. One Economy’s approach has a particular focus on home-based access for all.
One Economy creates the Beehive, a new online destination for education and tools to help low-income Americans meet the challenges and opportunities related to their finances, health, education, employment, and more.
One Economy launches the Digital Connectors program in Washington, D.C. to hire and train high-school aged youth in technology skills and then deploy them to serve as technology ambassadors in their neighborhoods. This pilot program would ultimately be replicated as a national model in communities from DC to San Francisco, resulting in more than one million hours of service to low-income neighborhoods and 10,000 young people trained.
One Economy launches the Public Internet Channel, a new website devoted to bringing public purpose programming to audiences often left out of the media landscape. The effort was co-chaired by Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.
President Obama signs into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a stimulus package that includes $7.2 billion devoted to promoting broadband infrastructure and adoption.
One Economy receives the largest broadband adoption grant as part of the ARRA from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). This $28.5 million grant, backed by $25 million in private match, enables One Economy to expand its reach and impact into communities across the nation through its relationships with over 900 community-based organizations (CBOs), its connection of 27,000 units of affordable housing to broadband, and digital skills training to more than 260,000 Americans.
ARRA also commissions the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a National Broadband Plan, which was unveiled in March. The plan calls for 100 million homes to have 100/50 Mbps internet connections by the year 2020, 1 gig connections to community anchor institutions, and affordable access to in-home broadband connectivity and training for all Americans.
After 13 years of impactful work, One Economy Corporation’s highlights include: pioneering shared in-home broadband access and connecting more than 40,000 low-income households; training 10,000 Digital Connectors as tech ambassadors for nearly 1 million neighborhood residents; creating life-enhancing content and applications used by 20 million people, and creating the Bring IT Home policy campaign, which encouraged in-home broadband in publicly-financed housing in 40 states.
Mobile devices become the most common means of accessing the Internet, partly as a result of telecommunications companies' now-ubiquitous implementation of “4G” or fourth generation mobile networks, capable of transmitting data at speeds of 100Mbps.
Nearly 25 million Americans remain disconnected from broadband at home. For low-income and rural communities the numbers are worst of all–with nearly half of all households making less than $35,000/year still disconnected.
In December, a small group of entrepreneurs, including former founders of One Economy Corporation, found a new company called Centri Tech, to address tech infrastructure and adoption as a means to improve and enhance the lives of Americans, particularly the un- and under-connected.
Early in the new year, the sudden outbreak of a deadly new virus is declared a global emergency. In the U.S., and around the world, stay-at-home orders go into effect and people are left to manage their work, education, and healthcare online. Our collective lack of preparedness for this technological challenge is laid bare.
In November, Centri Tech officially launches, along with its nonprofit, the Centri Tech Foundation. Together, they lay the groundwork to execute on our new national imperative, Digital Advancement.
Local governments, places of business, and school districts all scramble to find fast and effective solutions to our now-obvious technical shortcomings. Some school systems distribute free devices to students that need them to bring classes 100% online. Internet connectivity remains a harder problem to solve, leaving many students to park outside of free public wifi hotspots to download and upload their assignments.
How did we get here?
Centri Tech Annual Report 2021