Cities and states across the nation are grappling with ways to get their most vulnerable and underserved residents connected to the internet. With recent rulings by the Federal Communications Commission to limit local regulations concerning 5G wireless technologies, it has become even more critical for cities to act now and to involve residents and community stakeholders in creating solutions that are tailored to the specific challenges they face.
Last year, I led the Long Beach City Council on this issue and we unanimously passed the City’s first Digital Inclusion policy. Since then, we have begun to develop a citywide framework to address challenges of digital inclusion and equity. In partnership with the Department of Technology and Innovation and the Office of Civic Innovation, we have:
• Hired a project lead to manage the Digital Inclusion initiative;
• Established a Fiber Master Plan to extend our fiber backbone and connect all city facilities to high-speed internet;
• Convened two Digital Inclusion Roundtables with a multi-disciplinary coalition of stakeholders across private and public sectors;
• Received a detailed report by the Technology & Innovation Commission with recommendations for advancing digital inclusion citywide;
• Supported legislation at the state and federal levels to bridge the digital divide for low-income residents;
• Launched a community-engaged Smart Cities initiative to pilot Internet of Things solutions along the Anaheim Street Corridor; and
• Celebrated International Digital Inclusion Week and Computer Science Education Week (CSEd Week) through in-person and social media educational outreach.
For these efforts, we have been recognized as a Digital Inclusion Trailblazer by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and we should be proud of how much we have accomplished in such a short amount of time. But there is much more work to be done. We cannot have a Smart City without inclusion. As Long Beach strives to become a leader in the 21st Century innovation economy, we must prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable residents.
Digital inclusion requires more than just addressing capacity and connectivity needs for our community members to access the internet. Civic investment in technological infrastructure, such as the expansion of Fiber across the city, cannot just be one-off actions; they must provide clear community benefits and be consistent with a comprehensive approach to create an equitable digital landscape throughout the city. This will require including community stakeholders in the process to co-create solutions with us as we develop a citywide Digital Inclusion Roadmap.
Beyond access, we also need to ensure that digital inclusion is incorporated in our education system. Our local knowledge institutions — LBUSD, LBCC, and LBSU — and public libraries are perhaps the most critical assets to bridge the digital divide by providing youth free access to the internet and technological resources. Yet as a city, we must help address achievement gaps and advance more inclusive STEM curriculum, so that all youth are afforded the opportunities to compete for good paying jobs in the digital and technological innovation fields.
The best approach to achieve these wider objectives is through partnerships. We must rely on partners in the public and private sectors to build an inclusive digital city. Recently, the City Council executed an agreement with Verizon to invest in our neighborhoods and lend their technology and expertise as in-kind services through community benefit agreements. The city gained fifty hotspots with two years of free internet service to be distributed in underserved neighborhoods and a $100,000 donation to a local organization to purchase Chromebooks with internet service. Additionally, eight miles of city-owned fiber conduit will be provided and Verizon will assist with traffic studies and origin/destination data to help address traffic congestion.
As the only member on the City Council who also works in the tech sector — in corporate social responsibility for Microsoft — I truly believe in the need for innovative public-private partnerships and community benefits to make Long Beach a Smart City for all. That is why I will continue to advocate for and dedicate resources to this project, to support the creation of the Digital Inclusion Roadmap and ensure this great work has a sustainable foundation to move forward. Please join us in co-creating an equitable, inclusive digital city by visiting www.longbeach.gov/ti/digital-inclusion/.
Lena Gonzalez represents the First District on the Long Beach City Council.