Inclusion in the Digital Era: A Glimpse at Philadelphia’s Role in Shaping the Future of Internet Accessibility

Mayor Parker speaks at Net InclusionSubmitted Image

PHILADELPHIA, PA — At the heart of an increasingly connected world, the digital divide still persists, threatening to leave behind those without adequate access to online resources. This is a reality that the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has tirelessly addressed since its initial assembly seven years ago. This year, the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, served as a momentous setting for NDIA’s hallmark event, the Net Inclusion conference, attracting over 1300 attendees from all corners of digital inclusion work.

Dating back to its inception in 2016, the Net Inclusion Conference is a premier platform where advocates, academics, practitioners, and policymakers assemble to address the issues and opportunities surrounding digital equity. Earning recognition among 1,600 participating organizations from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and six territories, this conference is not merely a networking occasion – it is a testament to the growing urgency of digital inclusion.

The conference, organized by NDIA, unfolded from February 13-15 at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, with a packed schedule full of interactive sessions, keynote speakers, and innovative discussions. It shed light on several critical areas, including accessibility, digital navigators, serving diverse populations, digital health equity, and community-centered work.

Also spotlighted were new sessions exploring the fascinating intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital equity, and discussions that emphasized strategies to reach underserved rural and tribal communities. The conference also had an emphasis on financial sustainability, providing participants with insights into funding models to support continuous digital inclusion efforts.

The conference was kicked off with an empowering address by Mayor Cherelle Parker, who expressed her appreciation for the participants’ commitment to digital equity and proudly announced Philadelphia’s dedication to digital inclusion. She reinforced that without internet access, devices, or digital literacy skills, residents are at risk of missing opportunities for economic growth.

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The conference’s three-day schedule was filled with noteworthy speakers and panel discussions, including appearances from beloved Philadelphia mascot, Gritty, and an enlightening speech from Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. Other distinguished speakers ranged from Alan Davidson, an advisor to President Biden on telecommunications policy, to Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman, who voiced his support for a bipartisan bill to continue funding for Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (ACP).

Meanwhile, the City’s Digital Equity team, part of NDIA’s local planning committee, showcased Philly’s hospitality with bus and walking tours and reservations at local eateries, gracing the conference with a vibrant, community-driven atmosphere.

Throughout the conference, Philadelphia’s Digital Equity team contributed valuable insights and participated in three panel discussions. The topics ranged from raising awareness about the digital divide within organizations, leveraging data to enhance services, and shaping strategies for advancing digital equity through community engagement.

On the evening of February 13, NDIA hosted an awards ceremony, where they acknowledged 47 municipalities for their exemplary work in reducing the digital divide. The City of Philadelphia received a special recognition, being named a Visionary Trailblazer, an honor highlighting its consistent efforts in tackling digital inequity.

As we navigate our virtual world, the Net Inclusion conference was an attempt to highlight the importance of in-person connection, facilitating a space for attendees to form relationships, exchange ideas, and feel part of a community. It served as a reassuring reminder that the commitment to bridging the digital divide is shared by dedicated individuals and entities, tirelessly pioneering a more inclusive digital future.

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In conclusion, the Net Inclusion Conference 2024 did not just highlight the challenges of digital inclusion; it offered a vision of a more connected world. By fostering robust conversations and providing practical tools, this gathering signals the promise of a more equitable digital landscape, beginning right here in Philadelphia. Click here to learn more about DigitalEquityPHL.

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