Generocity is one of 22 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice.
In 2016, the United Nations declared internet access to be a basic human right.
However, in Philadelphia — the United States’ poorest big city, with a poverty rate of 25.7 percent — the internet subscription rate fell from 2016 to 2017 by 2.7 percent, according to the recently released 2013-2017 American Community Survey (ACS).
Only 71.6 percent of households in the city had broadband in 2017, compared to a national rate of 83.5 percent and an 88.1 percent rate in the Philly suburbs.
As Philly.com notes, though, there’s an even wider disparity among the city’s neighborhoods: Center City sees a broadband penetration rate of 89 percent, while North Philadelphia’s Tioga/Nicetown sees only 37 percent.
Increasingly, residents without in-home broadband are relying on smartphones to access the internet: As of March 2018, a Pew Research Center survey found, 31 percent of American households earning less than $30,000 per year are “smartphone dependent” for internet access.
Those local folks now have one more option for hopping on the web: The ACS data release comes within a few days of the City of Philadelphia’s Dec. 7 launch of its first LinkPHL kiosks, which will offer free and secure Wi-Fi, device charging ports, phone calls within the U.S. and a city services finder.
The Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability announced in November 2017 that it had received approval from the city’s Art Commission to install 100 free-standing kiosks total, mainly in Center City and University City. The service will be paid for by advertising, not the city’s budget.
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“LinkPHL’s many amenities support our SmartCityPHL goal of creating a modern infrastructure that will benefit Philadelphia for many years to come,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement.
As of now, the city isn’t expanding LinkPHL to more impoverished areas, but other steps have been taken to reducing Philadelphia’s digital divide, both from inside and outside local government:
- This past August, the Digital Literacy Alliance — a 19-organization collective born out of the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia — awarded close to $175,000 to 12 Philly organizations as they try to reduce the digital skills gap across the city.
- Comcast’s $10-per-month Internet Essentials program has served nearly 200,000 low-income Philadelphians.
- Free Library of Philadelphia branches offer free computer use for job searches and homework help.
- The KEYSPOT Network deploys more than $500,000 annually to support public technology centers and accompanying digital literacy training.
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