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#DigitalEquityIs the Future of Seattle

Guest Blog Post by Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

Seattle has always been the city that invents the future. We have a long history of leading the way on digital innovation, from the personal computing revolution, to e-commerce and the cloud. For so long, we have re-built, re-invented and re-imagined the digital future.

But not everyone in Seattle has benefitted equally from the technological revolution. Imagine not being able to find a job, not because you weren’t a skilled worker, but because you simply didn’t have access to the internet to post your resume online. Or if you couldn’t help your fifth grader with her history report, all because you depend on public Wi-Fi and the library is closed. Or if you couldn’t find affordable housing, with no computer access to complete a rental application.

Sounds hard to imagine in our city – home to tech giants with household names and one of the most “plugged in” communities – but this is a fact many of our residents face every day.

And it’s a fact I believe we need to change.

May 7 through 11, marks national Digital Inclusion Week. We are joining with other cities across the country to shed light on the work being done to make sure all Americans have access to the technology needed to succeed in our fast moving, technology savvy world. With the #digitalequityis, we’re holding this conversation across all platforms.

Digital equity is essential in our society.

Many of us might not even think about how difficult it can be to function without access to technology until we don’t have it. We get frustrated when we can’t access a connection to check email, social media, or stream a video. For some, this is an everyday reality. Seven percent of Seattle residents don’t have internet at home, are “under-connected,” meaning their internet access is slow, drops out, buffers, or have only one computer internet access for their family’s needs. Seven percent might seem low to you – but that number translates to nearly 50,000 Seattle residents according to the American Community Survey. I think it’s seven percent too many.

Working to achieve digital equity is one way that we can help close the opportunity gap for low income families and communities of color. Many of these “under-connected” homes are in lower income neighborhoods. As a 2015 Pew Research Center report noted, those families are more likely to struggle finding jobs as they face challenges filling out forms and submitting resumes on their phones. For those parents whose only access is on their phones, many hit their data limit quickly while helping kids with online homework. Or worse, their phones are disconnected because they can’t pay their bills.

It’s these digital inequity challenges that vulnerable populations are facing on a daily basis.  This includes low-income residents, seniors, people with disabilities and residents with limited-English skills.

In Seattle, we’re working diligently to close the digital divide. Together with investors and providers, we’re connecting the community. With programs such as Wi-Fi devices for homeless residents, or ConnectHome, which provides public housing families with refurbished computer and internet access, or the Technology Matching Fund program, which supports non-profits teaching digital skills and equipping residents, we can help eliminate that high number of seven percent. In Seattle, we have more than 300 community sites that receive free broadband service through our partnerships with Comcast and Wave Broadband. The City also offers free Wi-Fi at all libraries, community centers and public buildings.

But we can’t do it alone. We must continue building partnerships and a community that cares enough to eliminate the inequities that challenge us as a City. By working towards true digital equity, we can make Seattle a more affordable, inclusive and welcoming place for all.