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Oakland Program Empowers Groups to Tackle Digital Divide

The Town Link program will support 10 organizations in Oakland, Calif., to offer digital skills programs to support their community as one piece of the city’s efforts to bridge the digital divide.

A hand pointing towards illuminated symbols, among which are the words "training," "development" and "skills." Dark background.
Ten organizations receiving funding through The Town Link, a program that aims to improve digital equity in Oakland, Calif., will be offering various trainings over the next year to improve digital inclusion and literacy within their communities.

The October announcement about The Town Link detailed the 10 local organizations, which will receive $10,000 each to inform residents about affordable broadband plans, pay for computers and tablets, and then teach them the necessary skills to use those devices.

The grant announcement marked the beginning of the campaigns, which are to be complete by the fall 2022.

The move to launch this program followed the publication of a report on digital equity in the city by The Greenlining Institute, which compared how the communities in and near the city that lack high-speed Internet access resemble the official redlining maps from the 1930s.

According to the city of Oakland’s program analyst for the Department of Race and Equity, Jacque Larrainzar, that report highlighted the need to address the gap in the lack of access to programs that teach people how to access broadband services and use Internet-enabled devices.

Larrainzar said the city has been consistently working to combat the digital divide and the lasting impacts of redlining with #OaklandUndivided, a campaign aimed at bridging the digital divide for Oakland students.


The participating organizations vary in their missions, from the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants to the Allen Temple Baptist Church.

According to Vinhcent Le, legal counsel with The Greenlining Institute’s economic equity team, the criteria requires that organizations be Oakland-based and serve priority communities as identified by American Community Survey census data.

Organizations that met those requirements were invited to apply and propose plans, which were considered based on feasibility and potential impact.

Another important factor that was considered in selecting the organizations was whether they had a proven history of providing services for historically marginalized communities — including Black, Indigenous, Asian and Latino communities — to ensure that they would be able to effectively work with the people they would be serving and ensure the program would be accessible.

“This [program] is really innovative in the world of IT and engagement, and it is because we’re centering racial equity,” Larrainzar said.

Le underlined the importance of using trusted local organizations to do this type of outreach because there is a trust gap in the community with programs of this sort.

Le also explained the need to adapt partner strategies for the specific populations they will be serving. For example, some of the organizations might serve senior citizens, while others might be focused on serving church congregations; these different groups would have varying needs in terms of digital skills.


The program's success will be measured through data acquired from the participants.

During the program, participating individuals will receive Internet-enabled devices and a survey. Larrainzar said the expectation is that 150 will be enrolled and at least 100 surveys will be submitted from the completed work. The goal is to use the surveys to assess the data and the potential of making the program permanent.

Organizations requested a method of reporting progress that would not be exceedingly time-consuming, so the city offered the alternative method of testimonials — a way for organizations to report back using social media, videos and testimonials from the program to show that the target outcomes have been met.

While this program will only last a year, Le said that the plan is to share the approach and what is learned so that it can potentially be replicated in other localities.

“I would love to see other cities replicate this model, and really go to the communities and involve these base community organizations that are the ones with their feet on the ground,” Larrainzar said.

Other cities have already displayed interest in launching similar programs, Le said, and there is the potential of using federal funding opportunities to help them do so.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.