Key to the designation of the City of Los Angeles as an All-America City last year was its work on digital inclusion. Celebrating its award last month at a special ceremony, Councilmember Curren Price said that “digital equity is more important than ever for our youth.” The City has done amazing work to narrow the digital gap for not only young people, but all residents.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many young people living in Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) communities faced difficulties engaging in virtual learning due to a lack of technology and digital infrastructure. “2020 created a sense of urgency to connect people to the internet,” said Dawn Comer, Director of Technology and Inclusion for the City.
Among its efforts, the City partnered with internet service provider, Starry Internet, which provided six months of free service for residents to help ensure learning continuity for HACLA’s Los Angeles Unified School District students, who at the time had all transitioned to remote learning. Today, through the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP), Starry’s broadband service is available at no or low cost to more than 5,000 households across 10 HACLA communities.
Early on, HACLA committed to conducting community outreach and engagement to encourage uptake of this opportunity. To date, there is a 54 percent adoption rate at all housing sites, with some sites as high as 72 percent. HACLA, in partnership with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, is raising additional capital to invest in the transformation of 13 computer labs so that the spaces can have upgraded equipment and new furniture along with digital literacy, academic and workforce development programming.
Recognizing that bridging the digital divide requires more than internet access, HACLA recruited youth leaders to serve as Digital Ambassadors. Digital ambassadors assist with educating families on Starry Internet, co-host COVID-19 educational workshops, help people with accessing telehealth resources, and train residents on how to navigate software and internet resources. HACLA also worked with partners to establish no-cost learning pods to help younger children navigate their lesson plans while their parents worked or when adults were uncomfortable navigating digital lessons on behalf of their children.
The L.A. Public Library (LAPL) has also played an important role in advancing digital inclusion. The Library’s digital inclusion resources include 957 computer workstations at its 73 branches, the Tech2Go program for loaning hotspots and computer bundles, and “Cybernauts,” staff members who are available to help people with computer questions both in-person and virtually. Early in the pandemic, the Library also supported the distribution of 18,000 WiFi hotspots to eligible K-12 students through the Angeleno Connectivity Trust (ACT) Program, a partnership with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, the Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles and T-Mobile’s Project 10Million. Finally, the Library celebrates Digital Inclusion Week each fall, with special events and giveaways.
Los Angeles County has also worked to close the digital divide, spending over $17 million to connect students to broadband, create hotspots, and distribute Chromebooks and iPads. The county’s Office of Education has also worked with Apple, Omnipro and others to provide technical assistance, and has created a regional plan to guide future activities.