Articles

Google Bringing Wi-Fi to Low-Income Seattle Residents

Mayor Ed Murray emphasized that the city needs help from private businesses to expand technology access, highlighting Comcast and Google for recent programs that bring Internet to some low-income residents.

by Rachel Lerman, The Seattle Times / April 1, 2016
A sign in the current Google Seattle Office. Google

(TNS) -- Google will give $344,000 in grants to the city of Seattle to bring Wi-Fi to low-income residents and to parks and recreation centers across the city.

The Mountain View, Calif., tech giant announced the donation Wednesday as part of the city’s larger Digital Equity Initiative, which aims to bring technology training and access particularly to low-income residents who have been largely left out of the region’s tech boom.

More than 93,000 homes in the city, about 15 percent of the population, do not have Internet access. Mayor Ed Murray’s office last year ruled out, — at least in the near future — a plan for city-owned broadband access. Instead, it doubled down on plans to reduce digital inequity in the region.

 

“We’re a city known for innovation and technology,” Murray said Wednesday at an event announcing the second phase of the Digital Equity Initiative Action Plan at Yesler Community Center. “…Yet too many of the residents of this city do not have sufficient access to the Internet.”

Murray emphasized that the city needs help from private businesses to expand technology access, highlighting Comcast and Google for recent programs that bring Internet to some low-income residents. Murray expressed support earlier this month for public-private partnerships to increase broadband access in the city, after reiterating that the time was not right for municipal broadband.

Google’s grant will be used by the Seattle Housing Authority to bring Internet to about 400 families who have children from kindergarten through high school. The Housing Authority estimates the program will bring the Internet to about 800 students living in one of five communities: New Holly, High Point, Rainier Vista, Lake City Court and Yesler Terrace.

Housing Authority Executive Director Andrew Lofton called the grant a “huge deal.” Lofton hopes to eventually replicate it across more of its sites, he said.

“It will help families’ abilities to help their kids get things accomplished,” he said, noting it will especially help kids learn and do homework at home.

The second part of the grant from Google will provide funding for Wi-Fi at each of Seattle Park and Recreation’s 26 centers.

Comcast is also expanding its access programs in the city. The company said last week it has broadened its Internet Essentials program, which provides families in public housing with $10 per month Internet service. Previously, the service was available only for families with young kids in school.

Sabrina Roach, a Seattle resident who helped launch Upgrade Seattle, which works to implement municipal broadband, welcomed the programs, but expressed concern about one part of Comcast’s plan. The company mandates that low-income residents must have been without Internet service for 90 days before qualifying for the program.

Roach, who works at Brown Paper Tickets, said that could discourage residents in public housing who currently get service from Comcast from switching to the less expensive plan.

“You’d have to disconnect from the Internet for three months before you can get that,” she said.

Comcast spokesman Walter Neary said the program is tailored for families who do not currently have Internet access for many reasons, including cost.

 

Seattle’s digital-equity action plan. built over the last year by a small committee, identifies three goals for the city: make it easier for people to get devices, to access the Internet and to receive technology training.

©2016 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.