Internet access program seeks to close Oakland’s digital divide
on April 29, 2011
The City of Oakland will put more effort into helping its low-income residents gain access to broadband Internet said mayor Jean Quan on Thursday morning.
Quan, along with Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Oakland school board member Noel Gallo and other elected officials, gathered at a branch of the Oakland Housing Authority yesterday to announce the launch of an initiative called Get Connected! Oakland, a partnership of a dozen of government agencies and non-profit organizations.
According to its website, Get Connected! Oakland aims to introduce low-cost broadband to 10,000 households and refurbish 2,500 computers this year.
The program is a part of a statewide initiative to promote high-speed Internet access, and is sponsored by California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), a non-profit corporation affiliated with the California Public Utilities Commission. According to CETF, thirty percent of all Californians, especially low-income households and Latino families, are not connected to the World Wide Web.
“This is not a new initiative,” said Quan. “It’s the latest format of this initiative with greatest amount of partners.” Quan said the city has been working to eliminate the digital divide for many years. For example, she said, Oakland Technology Exchange, a main partner of the program, has been providing Oakland students with free recycled computers for the past two decades. But Quan added that today “the digital divide is still very real” and forty percent of Oaklanders use public libraries as a consistent way to get Internet access.
“[While] some of our baby boomers are still fascinated by the technology,” said Gallo, “Our children are born digital.” Gallo said the majority of Latino families still rely solely on television to get information, and said that the lack of Internet access at home has become a huge drawback for Oakland students who want to compete successfully in a globalized environment.
Seniors are also a population isolated from the Internet technology, said Ellen Muhammad, a coordinator of the city’s Senior Employment Opportunities Program. Muhammad said the city’s senior digital inclusion project is running free computer courses for residents in several locations, including the North and West Oakland senior centers. Muhammad said that since 2009 the project has taught about 450 elderly residents basic computer skills such as browsing the web and sending emails.
“You have no idea how hard it is for some people to use a mouse,” she said.
District Attorney O’Malley echoed Muhammad and said broadband access is also vital to those with criminal records who are trying to integrate back to into the community and need an Internet connection to search for jobs and other information, such as vocational training opportunities. These opportunities play an important role in preventing those people from committing crimes again, she said. “We are training individuals for tomorrow’s jobs, not the jobs we were doing yesterday,” said O’Malley.
Get Connected Oakland “won’t make any qualitative changes necessarily but it’ll make quantitative changes,” said Ben Delaney, CEO of ReliaTech, another program partner that provides computer training for low-income residents.
“Lower income neighborhoods often don’t have connectivity available at any cost,” said Delaney. “The providers haven’t seen them as good enough market so haven’t brought the cables in.”
Quan said after the press conference that the city’s housing authority is setting up wireless Internet connections for its public housing buildings and the city may go into negotiations in the fall with providers to offer low-cost basic Internet access for low-income residents.
“This is the next step,” said Quan. “We’re not only giving free computers. ”
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