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Cambridge will launch a pilot program helping low-income residents access affordable internet services and technological support, the city announced Tuesday.
The announcement of the program comes nearly one year after the city released a report on the feasibility of implementing municipal broadband internet for all residents, which has long been a priority for elected officials.
The Digital Navigator Pilot Program will hire “digital navigators,” who will be stationed in the Cambridge Public Library and public schools, to provide support to low-income residents. Services will include assisting residents in signing up for low-cost internet connections and setting up computers and other devices.
Forty percent of low-income Cambridge residents lack the digital literacy for essential services such as “banking, contacting medical support, or purchasing groceries,” the city said in a press release.
City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 said in the release that the pilot program is a “significant step forward in bridging the digital divide.”
The program — collectively led by the city’s Information Technology Department, the Cambridge Public Library, Cambridge Public Schools, Just A Start, and Cambridge Community Television — will “align” with statewide efforts to provide digital navigators, according to the city’s press release.
The pilot will be funded by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute — a state agency — and the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
But the launch of the program could be impacted by the expiration of the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, municipal broadband advocate Saul I. Tannenbaum said.
The ACP subsidizes internet access to low-income households nationwide, but Congress has yet to recommit funds to the program. As a result, the Federal Communications Commission will freeze any new enrollments starting Thursday.
“The access component — getting people on to the internet — depends on federal funding that’s about to expire,” Tannenbaum said.
Though discussions around digital equity first began in 2007, when the city established a Digital Divide Committee, Cambridge has yet to establish a widespread municipal broadband network.
While Tannenbaum said launching the new pilot program is “the right thing to do,” he also called for an “ongoing public review” of the city’s efforts.
“The one thing here is just to imagine what the city would be like if we actually had set out to solve the problem that we identified in the 2000s and actually had succeeded,” Tannenbaum said.
“I think it would be a much better city,” he added.
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