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Oakland selected as inaugural city in national effort to close the 'digital divide' for good

By ONME Newswire


OAKLAND, CA – Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced last week that the city had been selected by national organization, EducationSuperHighway, to participate in a pilot project that aims to connect 90% of Oakland’s estimated 36,951 unconnected homes to high-speed broadband over the next five years.


This announcement builds on the unprecedented success of the #OaklandUndivided campaign, which has raised $17+ million, distributed more than 29,000 laptops and 10,000 hotspots, and fulfilled 10,000 tech support requests this past school year.


EducationSuperHighway, a national non-profit organization, has been working to connect students for remote learning during the pandemic. This new announcement comes a year after it successfully completed its mission to connect 47 million students to close the K-12 classroom connectivity gap.


Now, EducationSuperHighway’s new No Home Left Offline report highlights that two-thirds of America’s unconnected households are still offline because they cannot afford an available Internet connection. This broadband affordability gap is present in every state, and disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latinx Americans, and is the number one barrier to closing the digital divide.


The Federal Communications Commission recently awarded $9.2 billion to internet service providers for the construction of rural broadband networks over the next 10 years; California received $695 million.


Over the next five years, the two organizations will form “Oakland Connect” to deploy EducationSuperHighway’s broadband adoption and free apartment Wi-Fi programs to help community members from low-income backgrounds overcome the trust and enrollment barriers unconnected households face when signing up for federal broadband programs and home broadband service. The programs target America's most unconnected communities, where more than 25% of people don't have Internet.


“Public-private partnerships, exemplified by the success of #OaklandUndivided, are critical to achieving equity in cities across the country,” said Oakland mayor, Schaaf. “Oakland is proud to partner with EducationSuperHighway, a critical leadership partner of #OaklandUndivided to remove affordability barriers and dramatically increase broadband access for our most vulnerable populations and close the digital divide for good.”


#OaklandUndivided is a collective impact, equity-focused initiative composed of founding partners Oakland Unified School District, the City of Oakland, TechExchange, the Oakland Public Education Fund, Oakland Promise, and over 15 leadership partners (see oaklandundivided.org for all partners and impact to date). Working together, they have increased home access to a computer and internet for Oakland public school students from low-income backgrounds from 12% to 98%. Moving into Phase II, #OaklandUndivided has a dual focus of sustaining home access for all Oakland public school students while also increasing broadband access in Oakland’s most under-connected communities - notably West Oakland, Fruitvale, and East Oakland.


“We are excited about the potential of the partnership led by #OaklandUndivided and the city of Oakland to close the digital divide in the city,” said Othello Meadows, managing director at Blue Meridian Partners. “We are inspired by their deep commitment to an equitable recovery for those most affected by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exciting work being done by the partners behind #OaklandUndivided – including EducationSuperHighway – is a testament to what is possible when leaders come together and remain focused on improving access for their people."


In response to the pandemic, a bipartisan consensus has emerged to dramatically accelerate progress towards closing the digital divide. The state and federal government has recognized the need to address the broadband affordability gap with potential once-in-a-generation investments. Oakland was selected by EducationSuperHighway as the inaugural pilot city for the national launch of No Home Left Offline because it has come together to seize this unique moment in history to address a long-standing inequity and close the digital divide once and for all.


The deployment of the OAK WiFi initiative was also a critical factor in EducationSuperHighway's decision to partner with Oakland. The project, made possible by the allocation of $7.7M of CARES Act funding, unanimously approved by the Oakland City Council in 2020, provides a network of live access zones throughout the city, greatly expanding the coverage from West Oakland through Downtown and along the International Blvd corridor to the San Leandro border. EducationSuperHighway's free apartment Wi-Fi is modeled after the way Wi-Fi is delivered in most hotels today. Rather than buy a separate Internet connection for each room, the hotel buys a single internet connection for the building and then installs a building-wide Wi-Fi network. This new program will leverage OAK WiFi's recently deployed fiber infrastructure to improve connectivity and adoption among a significant portion of the city's least connected residents.


“The action taken to connect students during the pandemic provides a blueprint for a broad public-private partnership to close the broadband affordability gap,” said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway. “We selected Oakland to be EducationSuperHighway’s first pilot city not only because it’s representative of the broadband affordability gap nationally, but the city is leading the nation in its efforts to close the digital divide. We are thrilled to partner with Mayor Schaaf, Oakland Promise, and #OaklandUndivided to remove the barriers that keep low-income families from connecting.”



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