City to conduct survey to assess Internet needs in Philly

Jack Tomczuk / Metro File Photo

The City of Philadelphia is working with Wilco Electronic Systems to conduct a survey to identify the digital access needs of local residents and further understand the digital divide in an effort to support a citywide digital equity strategy.

The goal of the Philadelphia Household Internet Assessment survey is to help assess awareness about available internet options, better understand barriers to internet access, and to incorporate user experience into solutions. Wilco was chosen 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.

“Increasing digital equity has and will continue to be essential to the city’s work,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement. “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.”

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 sample of Philadelphia residents is collected. 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 to get internet services and computers; evaluate satisfaction with internet services; and understand affordability of service for households.

“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.”

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 for many people.

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