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January 14, 2021

Verizon to update Philly's computer centers, help address digital inequality

A $50,000 innovation fund is being established to improve opportunities for residents lacking sufficient digital access

Technology Computers
Verizon Philadelphia internet accessibility.original.jpg Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Verizon is partnering with Philadelphia in an effort to address technology inequality in the city.

Philadelphia is partnering with Verizon to overhaul its public computer centers and fund an initiative aimed at boosting digital opportunities for residents impacted by the digital divide. 

The partnership will rebrand the city's Keyspot computer centers as Keystone Innovation and Technology Centers. Verizon will refresh technology and updated devices at the sites, which opened more than a decade ago. 

The partnership also will allocate $50,000 to the Philadelphia Fund for Leadership, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which will provide funds, guidance and expertise to minority entrepreneurs and innovators in the city.

Digital inequality has long been an issue in Philadelphia, but the coronavirus pandemic has made internet access essential for paying bills, connecting with loved ones and applying for jobs. It particularly has been an issue in education, with many city students lacking the tools necessary for remote learning.

"This digital divide is a widespread challenge in Philadelphia. With rising costs and rapid changes in technology, more Philadelphians are being left behind each year," the Keyspot website notes. "(It) is directly linked to inequality, and has a clear impact on Philadelphians' ability to increase economic, educational and social outcomes."

In 2018, about seven in 10 neighborhoods have fewer residents connected to broadband internet than the national average, according to Philadelphia Inquirer report. Some neighborhoods had as few as 37% of households connected to broadband.

The Keyspot centers, created in a partnership with Drexel University, see more than 80,000 visitors each year. Most are located in North and West Philadelphia. Usage is unrestricted and free to use at these sites — some of which offer computer and job skill training.

The rebranded centers are designed to serve as inclusive, safe locations for residents to access technology and the internet. They will be equipped with high connectivity speeds that will enable more innovative programming. 

Verizon will work with the Office of Children and Families and the Parks and Recreation department over the next few months to get the rebranded centers up and running, Andrew Buss, the city's deputy chief information officer for the Office of Innovation Management, told the Philadelphia Business Journal

Verizon will start with eight Keyspot locations in a pilot phase before expanding to 50 other locations.

"Supporting the mission of the city's digital equity plan is particularly critical during this pandemic and it is significant that we continue to encourage creative thinking and inclusive solutions that address digital inequities post-pandemic," said Eric Fitzgerald, Verizon's director of public policy.

The Philadelphia Fund for Leadership, Innovation and Entrepreneurship will work alongside the city's existing Innovation Fund, which is focused on departmental programs and efficiencies. Verizon will work out governance, participants and the process for distributing the funding over the next few months, Buss said.

"These foundational initiatives create unique opportunities for helping communities and residents leverage technology-driven resources and programming which is needed now more than ever," Mayor Jim Kenney said.

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