Philadelphia Announces Survey to Assess Internet Needs of Residents

internetImage by Gerd Altmann

PHILADELPHIA, PA — The City of Philadelphia announced that it will work with Wilco Electronic Systems and its team of partners to conduct the Philadelphia Household Internet Assessment survey to identify the digital access needs of its residents. To further understand the digital divide and support a city-wide digital equity strategy, the City’s Office of Innovation and Technology and the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia released a Philadelphia Households Internet Assessment request for proposal (RFP) at the end of 2020.

Wilco was chosen through the RFP process to collaborate with the City to create a survey that will provide accurate and timely data about how many households are currently without internet or relying on unreliable, low bandwidth options in Philadelphia. Wilco is bringing together a team that includes Centri Tech, SSRS, and national broadband expert John Horrigan. The results of the survey look to go beyond just gathering numbers—the aim is also to assess awareness about available internet options, better understand barriers to internet access, and to incorporate user experience into future solutions.

“Increasing digital equity has and will continue to be essential to the City’s work,” said Mayor Kenney. “Philadelphia has been a leading city in addressing digital equity, especially during the pandemic. With programs like PHLConnectED, we have successfully connected thousands of households while also recognizing there’s more work to be done. I encourage any household that receives a phone call to participate in this survey to take the time to respond and provide feedback. We will need our community’s input to overcome the digital divide.”

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PHLConnectED, the City’s program to connect eligible pre-K–12 families with internet access at no cost, has enabled over 17,500 internet connections, but the City is still working to identify and reach households who may have insufficient access to participate in work, school, or their healthcare. Survey responses will help benchmark the progress of current programs and its data will enable the City to create informed policy, program, and budget decisions for its digital equity strategy.

The survey will intentionally be conducted over the phone in six languages to ensure that households without internet are reached and that an inclusive, representative sample of Philadelphia residents is collected. The City held stakeholder engagement sessions to get direct feedback on the survey to ensure it is both comprehensive and accessible. The survey will be conducted by SSRS, a non-partisan public opinion research firm based in Pennsylvania that conducts studies for clients such as news organizations, universities, foundations, and local government. Residents can look out for a caller ID of either “SSRS” or a local “267” number when receiving a call.

The goals of this anonymous survey, which will run for one month, are to:

  • Determine how many households are without reliable broadband internet or internet-enabled devices at home;
  • Examine whether households have taken advantage of post-pandemic programs, such as PHLConnectED or the Emergency Broadband Benefit, to get internet services and computers;
  • Evaluate satisfaction with internet services; and
  • Understand affordability of service for households.
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“For decades, Wilco has been dedicated to bridging technology gaps on behalf of the City of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable communities,” said Brigitte Daniel Corbin, Chief Executive Officer of Wilco. “As we all continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we are honored to join forces with our trusted partner Centri Tech in support of this historic undertaking by the City and PHLConnectED. Gathering new, inclusive data that measures digital impact will be seminal to the City’s ongoing efforts to provide internet access and digital tools.”

“Philadelphia’s citywide survey will examine not just the size of the city’s digital divide, but also residents’ views on whether digital tools meet their connectivity needs for critical purposes such as schoolwork and telehealth,” said John Horrigan, former Research Director for the National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission. “The survey will also examine reasons why people lack critical tools for access and thereby help inform strategies to close gaps for households with children, low-income households, older adults, and communities of color.”

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The current available public data surrounding digital and internet access needs is outdated and offers limited understanding of the digital divide in 2021. Philadelphia is leading the pack among cities conducting this type of in-depth survey, especially since the pandemic which has changed life so drastically for many people. The City is confident in the team of experts that Wilco has brought to the table to design and lead this effort to create a better understanding of how best to achieve digital equity in Philadelphia.

Wilco is a Philadelphia-based telecommunications and systems integrator that has serviced multifamily housing developments and underserved communities for the past 40 years. Centri Tech, one of Wilco’s key partners, is a national social impact venture that aims to optimize technology to improve lives with a focus on serving people at home. The two organizations have come together to meet the needs of today’s housing communities and deliver both infrastructure—as well as impact—for underserved communities.

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