As the school year winds down for students, a new effort in education and digital equity is picking up behind the scenes. Arlington’s Digital Inclusion Initiative, announced in December 2017, will leverage the County’s fiber-optic network, ConnectArlington, to bring free broadband Internet access to low- and moderate-income households in Arlington, including those with school-age children.
Arlington Mill Residences, a low- and moderate-income residential development, will serve as the demonstration project for the initiative, which is being carried out in collaboration with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) and other supporting organizations. The 122-unit APAH-owned building is home to 159 children. Studies have shown that low-income school children often are less likely to own computers and use the Internet than their higher income peers, creating a “homework gap” where students have difficulty accessing online resources, communicating with teachers, and completing their school assignments.
“APAH is thrilled by the County’s support for bridging the digital divide for our residents at Arlington Mill,” said APAH President and CEO Nina Janopaul. “Half of our residents have no reliable access to the Internet. Students use Internet portals to complete their homework. Parents need the Internet to follow their children’s progress in school. Workers need the Internet to apply for jobs. This program removes a major barrier for our residents to fully participate in our community.”
Thanks to a grant from Arlington County and in-kind contributions from the supporting organizations, Arlington Mill residents will receive free Internet access for three years, along with refurbished laptops provided through APAH by Computer Recycling of Virginia, Inc. Residents will also receive free digital literacy training and classes. These contributions aim to close the homework gap for students and improve digital equity more broadly by providing access to online learning, job applications, healthcare and more to students’ parents, as well as adults without children.
Arlington’s Digital Inclusion Initiative is gaining national attention. The County recently learned that it will receive the Community Broadband and Digital Equity Innovative Partnership Award from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA). The award recognizes the County’s collaborative partnership with APAH as well as Virginia Tech, Wi-Fiber and Potomac Fiber. The award also recognizes Arlington as a national leader in community broadband efforts with its ConnectArlington network linking County and Schools buildings, libraries, and police, fire and public safety locations throughout the County, ensuring that the community will benefit as demand for digital services continually increases over the long term.
The award will be presented to the County on Aug. 30 at NATOA’s annual conference in Philadelphia.