The City of Philadelphia has issued a request for proposal (RFP) to rapidly quantify the number of households that are without Internet connectivity or relying on unstable, low-bandwidth options.
The RFP, issued with non-profit the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, seeks to enable the city to benchmark its progress on closing the digital divide and inform the next phase of policy, programme and budget decisions.
Mark Wheeler, Chief Information Officer, City of Philadelphia, told Cities Today: “To address digital equity problems, the City of Philadelphia needs to be able to benchmark its impact with programmes like PHLConnectED.”
“The city seeks feedback from firms or research agencies who have the means to measure Internet use (by type of technology) by Philadelphia households. We are looking for any and all ways to achieve quantifiable measures,” said Wheeler. “Because we are smart city and innovation-oriented, proposals that make sophisticated use of commercial data modelling and artificial intelligence are of particular interest.”
Closing the digital divide has shot to the top of cities’ priority lists amid the pandemic as everything from work to shopping for essentials and even access to critical information and services has shifted online. Access to education has been a particularly urgent concern.
Having a detailed understanding of connectivity gaps in the city and tracking progress in closing them is critical but poses challenges.
In August 2020, with funding from philanthropy and in co-operation with local education agencies, Philadelphia launched PHLConnectED, a two-year programme to provide free in-home, wireline Internet as well as cellular Mi-Fi devices to families in need of connectivity for remote learning of students in kindergarten to 12th grade (K-12 households).
The city says that a key challenge to the PHLConnnectED programme, which is a partnership between the Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT), the Mayor’s Office of Education and the Mayor’s Policy Office, is benchmarking its impact and understanding how many more families remain in need of Internet connectivity.
Before the programme launched, OIT evaluated the number of K-12 households without Internet. This included estimates provided by the School District of Philadelphia and several charter schools. These were based on school-conducted surveys but did not include all K-12 households, were limited in scope and were carried out partially in spring and early summer.
Further data inputs were the US Census American Community Survey data from 2014-2018 and a snapshot of the number of public-school households without a subscription to either of the two major wireline Internet service providers in Philadelphia. This analysis still didn’t cover every K-12 household across the city and did not include data from cellular, satellite or other types of Internet connection services.
“As a result, the city only has a limited understanding from July 2020 as to the potential number of families in need of service, which at the time was estimated at 18,000 households,” the RFP notes.
“Since that time, much effort has been made through the PHLConnectED program to increase connectivity across Philadelphia’s K-12 households and the city wishes to measure the impact of the initiative.”
The data is also important as Philadelphia plans additional strategies to tackle the digital divide beyond K-12 households.
Specifically, the city is looking to understand the number of all households, by type, that are with or without Internet or are relying on unstable, unreliable or low bandwidth options, and where these households are located in the city.
To give the fullest picture, the analysis should take into account the entire range of options, including wireline, paid and free wireless, satellite and cellular. Understanding the limitations of low-bandwidth options, including the data limits, speeds and cost of the plans that are in use by households, is equally important, the city said.
The deadline for proposals is January 29, 2021./Public Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.