Smart City Seattle:
The Digital Equity Initiative
Seattle’s Digital Equity Initiative was launched in response to the City’s quadrennial Technology Indicators Report, released in May 2014. The Report found significant disparities in internet access and digital literacy skills for those of lower education, low-incomes, seniors, disabled, minorities, and immigrants. The Initiative is one part of the Mayor’s broadband strategy to increase access, affordability, and public-private-community partnerships. It seeks to ensure all residents and neighborhoods have the information technology capacity needed for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.
Through a combination of reallocated City staff time, financial investments, and community partnerships, the City is investing $1.6 million on this Initiative this year, focused on the three prongs of the Action Plan: devices and technical support, skills training, and connectivity.
In the first phase of this work, the City sought input from experts and community members to draft a vision for digital equity for Seattle and to identify opportunities to take action. This included in-depth stakeholder interviews and roundtable discussions, along with engagement of an interdepartmental team and an external Digital Equity Action Committee.
Read the Digital Equity Initiative Action Plan: Phase One – Building the Foundation, July 2015
With the Initiative’s foundation established, the City developed specific strategies based on priorities identified through that input. These were released in March 2016.
Read the Digital Equity Initiative Action Plan: Phase Two – From Vision to Action, March 2016
As the City embarks on our efforts to bridge the digital divide, we will focus on outreach and accessibility, skills training, connectivity, devices and technical support, building community capacity, and inclusive engagement and empowerment.
Digital equity seeks to ensure all residents and neighborhoods have the information technology capacity needed for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. Working toward digital equity involves intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical barriers to access and use technology. Digital equity can:
- Offer better quality of life and empower communities through civic and cultural participation
- Create educational and economic opportunities that lead to economic success for all residents
- Ensure residents can connect through social networking and mobile devices
- Provide everyone the opportunity to use necessary health, consumer, legal, and social services
- Contribute to more self-sufficient residents, community-based organizations, and small businesses
In 2016 the Seattle IT Community Technology program released the Digital Equity Action Plan, which was developed in partnership with more than 100 community leaders, non-profit organizations, companies, and members of the public. The plan charts City focus and action on three goals for increasing digital equity.
Goal #1: Skills Training
Create and deliver educational opportunities for residents to gain technology skills, be successful in employment, entrepreneurship, lifelong learning, civic engagement, and use of essential online services.
- Expand digital skills training programs
- Prepare qualified trainers in tech centers
- Provide additional resources and support for community-based organizations
Goal #2: Devices and Support
Ensure affordable, available, and sufficient devices and technical support.
- Increase assistive tech (help those with different abilities) at community sites
- Increase support for device ownership programs
Goal #3: Connectivity
Ensure sufficient options for affordable and available internet connectivity.
- Improve high-speed internet infrastructure
- Improve internet availability to individuals
- Improve connectivity in public spaces
2016 Action Strategies
The Community Technology team started implementing several action strategies in 2016 to further increased internet and device access across Seattle. These strategies include:
- Expanded availability of low-cost devices via equipment refurbishment programs (100 devices deployed in 2016)
- Awarded $320,000 in Technology Matching Funds to support digital equity (August 2016)
- Develop recommendations for a public Wi-Fi strategy for disadvantaged and underserved areas (February 2017)
- Expanding free Wi-Fi at 26 Community Centers (completed December 2016)
The Community Technology Team can be contacted via (at) digitalinclusion or communitytechnology(at)seattle(dot)gov.