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Drexel Program Tackles Digital Divide in Philadelphia

April 16, 2012

Philly Keyspots. Photo by Andrew Huth

For many, checking email and scrolling through Twitter has become as synonymous with a morning routine as coffee and cereal.

But for as many as 41 percent of Philadelphians, that’s not the case. Just less than half of city residents lack basic skills and consistent access to connect online with their communities and the economy.

“It really is a civil rights issue,” says Joanne Ferroni, director of University and Community Partnerships at Drexel. “Digital literacy is directly tied to literacy, and Philadelphia is a city with a tremendous adult literacy problem.”

Ferroni says the digital divide is an issue not only for the individuals without access, but for Philadelphia as a whole—it slows economic growth, raises the price of social service and weakens our citizenry.  Philly Keyspots, a program powered the Freedom Rings Partnership among 51 local community organizations, including Drexel and the City of Philadelphia, hopes to draw attention to these digital barriers.

Philly Keyspots. Photo by Andrew HuthKeyspots recently asked digitally connected Philadelphians to join in an Internet FAST by giving up the online access for 41 hours to show solidarity with the 41 percent without Internet access and computer skills.

The Internet FAST, which lasted from 3 p.m. on April 21 until 8 a.m. on April 23, was one of many projects spearheaded by Keyspots to help bridge the digital gap within the city.

“If you’re not using the Internet, you can’t apply for a job or apply to college,” Ferroni says. “Even places that typically hire entry-level workers, now you have to fill out an online application.”

Keyspots and the Freedom Rings Partnership is a $15 million investment, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to focus on providing Internet access awareness and training where it’s most needed. Through the program, more than 70 computing centers—or Keyspots—are supplied with stations for community members to access the Internet. In addition to the Keyspots, various training programs and PhillyKeyspots.org, as many as 15,000 Philadelphians are expected to benefit from the program.

Philly Keyspots. Photo by Andrew Huth

Part of Drexel’s role in providing for those 15,000 people is to work with the [Community College of Philadelphia] to train Philadelphia Housing Authority residents,” Ferroni says.

Drexel’s initiative will train 5,000 Philadelphians over the lifetime of the program, providing each individual with a netbook computer upon completion of the program.

“Most of the people who come through the program are so excited. This is a huge accomplishment, because they become connected,” Ferroni said. “For a lot of people, the training is the first step in a long journey.”

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