- The City of Seattle's Office of Economic Development (OED) joined with Comcast and a variety of partners to launch its "Digital Bridge" program, a pilot that will provide low-income job seekers with free laptops and broadband connectivity to bolster their digital skills.
- City officials said the program was developed in response to the economic recession brought by the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), which triggered massive job losses, especially among people of color, immigrants and those who lack stable housing. Digital Bridge will assist the participants of various remote workforce development programs — provided through the Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI) — in applying for jobs.
- The first cohort of 20 program participants received refurbished computers on July 6, according to the city. Each cohort member is a person of color, with 95% identifying as Black, 30% as refugees or resident immigrants, 30% between the ages of 18-24 and 25% housing insecure.
The pandemic has highlighted what many have described as an "amplified" digital divide, as libraries and community centers close to the public. Such closures intend to prevent the spread of infection, but have also prevented many people from accessing the technology and tools they need to stay connected.
And despite its role as a tech hub, Seattle has a major digital divide. Around 14% of residents lack home internet in the city. There have been numerous ideas to reduce that, including the Upgrade Seattle group that advocates for internet to be a municipal utility like water, gas or electricity. Group co-founder Devin Glaser told Smart Cities Dive in an interview last year there is overwhelming support in the city for closing the digital divide.
This program in Seattle has brought together a bevy of partners outside of Comcast and SJI, including the Seattle Information Technology Department, Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington Information School, and computer reuse and recycling nonprofit InterConnection.org. Comcast contributed $50,000 to the program to purchase 200 refurbished laptops.
"Having a computer and internet is the vehicle for career progression, and connects individuals to resources, health care, and community," Bobby Lee, OED director, said in a statement.
As cities look to plot a path forward from the pandemic, partnerships to provide devices to residents in need are taking on increased importance. A similar program in San Diego would provide refurbished city computers to residents who lack a device at home, while advocates have said there is a need for ubiquitous internet given its importance in everyday life — similar to how electricity was made ubiquitous in the 20th century.