Pilot program bridges digital divide in Richmond

February 26, 2014 2:51:35 PM PST
A pilot program is underway to give hundreds of low-income Richmond residents free Internet access.

The free program is provided by Building Blocks for Kids, a coalition of government agencies including the city of Richmond, non-profit groups and community leaders.

At Richmond's City Council meeting on Tuesday night, representatives from the coalition presented their plan to provide Internet access, computers and computer literacy classes to residents in Richmond's Iron Triangle neighborhood.

The program is funded by a $500,000 grant from the California Emerging Technology Fund and is designed to boost computer and Internet literacy among the city's low-income residents.

Program officials on Tuesday night unveiled startling findings from a survey of about 500 Richmond residents that Building Blocks for Kids spokeswoman Jennifer Lyle said reveal a significant "digital divide" in Richmond.

"One in three residents doesn't have Internet access at home, two of five don't have access to a computer," Lyle said.

Lyle said Building Blocks for Kids hopes to help change those statistics with its pilot program, which so far has set up two Internet towers in Richmond's Iron Triangle.

The Internet towers receive high-speed Internet signals from Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit digital library providing free online access to books, movies and music.

Internet Archive has a 40-foot tower installed on Florida Avenue that sends signals to the two newly installed towers and provides high-speed wireless Internet for a handful of buildings, including the Civic Center Auditorium, the low-income housing development Atchison Village and individual houses.

Yolanda Lopez, a volunteer who allowed a tower to be installed at her home as part of the project, said Tuesday night that the free Internet access is a big help to her and her neighbors.

"I was truly excited because it's hard to afford Internet service," Lopez said, speaking through a Spanish interpreter.

She said the Internet access would allow her to help her son with his math and reading homework and to look up health services and recipes.

Building Blocks for Kids hopes to outfit 20 more homes with towers in the coming months to provide free Internet access to some 400 households in Richmond.

The grant-funded program also has provided about 900 families with free Internet training and gave out 1,000 computers refurbished by San Pablo non-profit ReliaTech.

Program representatives say they hope to offer more training and distribute more computers to low-income families. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin lauded the program's efforts Tuesday night.

"We're a leader in bridging the digital divide -- part of our values is to provide equity and we're showing it," she said.


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