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ARPA Digital Divide Response Project

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An image of a young mother getting help using a computer with a child on her lap, another child helping her, and a trainer
Portland's Digital Divide Response Project is helping community members overcome barriers to getting online.
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Project goals

The short-term goals of the Project are to distribute free technology (computing devices and accessories), to support free or low-cost internet service subscriptions, and to provide digital skills training and digital navigation services to members of the community with the intersectionality of known barriers to digital adoption. The long-term goal of the project is to build capacity in trusted community-based organizations to deliver these resources and services ongoing.

Equity Outcome: All people in Portland are able to connect to resources and to one another via dependable internet and devices.

Priority Populations

The ARPA Digital Divide Response Project prioritizes meeting the critical technology and internet access needs for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), seniors, LGBTQIA+, immigrants and refugees, houseless or housing insecure, foster youth, domestic violence survivors, people impacted by incarceration, people with disabilities, and those living in poverty (priority populations) who face barriers to being digitally connected.

Investments

Though various project investments throughout the city, the project worked to achieve:

  1. Community members disproportionately affected by the digital divide and COVID-19 have access to devices, reliable and free internet, digital literacy training, and support services. 
  2. Organizations serving those most at risk of digital exclusion have increased capacity to provide digital skills training and support services.

ARPA Tech Kit Grants

Community-based organizations were invited to apply for up to $250,000 in ARPA grant funds to purchase devices and accessories, and to build or scale digital skills training programs to support the device recipients. 12 community-based organizations received grant awards totaling $1,296,300 in funding to deliver training and technical support services to community members, many of whom also were provided a free computing device (Chromebook, laptop, or iPad) depending on their needs. More than 2,000 devices and 1,300 device accessories were distributed through this initiative. 

Free Internet Public-Private Partnership

Through a competitive funding opportunity, the City partnered with Free Geek and IRCO-Africa House (Immigrant Refugee Community Organization) to provide free internet service to 500 immigrant and refugee recipients. $120,000 of ARPA resources provided free internet service for at least a year and was matched with training and technical support provided by Free Geek and IRCO-Africa House and free new Samsung Chromebooks from T-Mobile. At an event in September 2023, IRCO's Digital Navigators worked with the recipients to set up their new devices and internet subscriptions. 

Wireless Network Building Grant: Old Town Free WiFi Network Pilot

The City awarded a $400,000 grant to AfroVillage for a Wireless Network Building project. AfroVillage PDX is partnering with several partners including Street Roots and Personal Telco, and many businesses in Old Town, to improve access to the internet by people who experience houselessness. The wireless network will expand job training opportunities and improve delivery of essential services by reducing barriers to connectivity in Portland’s historic Old Town neighborhood. This project invests in the latest wireless technology to bring secure connectivity to priority populations, social service providers, overnight shelters, permanent housing providers and residents, and a wide network of local businesses.

City Device Distribution 

The City developed a free computing device distribution plan to serve low-income individuals who aren’t connected to a community-based organization. With guidance from community partners and people experiencing digital inequities the City prioritized distribution of the over 600 available devices (Chromebooks, laptops, iPads and accessories) to indigenous community members and low-income community members that are/have experienced housing insecurity, have been impacted by incarceration, and are/were a foster child. City staff connected with each individual to help them set up the device and provided support and information on how to connect to the internet and documented stories of success that showed the device distribution helped with professional development, new job opportunities, increases in income, reduced housing insecurity/improved housing stability, and the ability to provide more homework support for school aged children. 

Funding source

The City of Portland committed $3.5 million to this project. This money comes from the U.S. government’s 2021 American Rescue Plan local recovery funds. Portland will receive a total of $208 million from the American Rescue Plan and has until Dec. 31, 2024 to spend it. The City of Portland is spending money in three priority categories:

  • Houselessness Response and Household Stabilization
  • Small Business and Commercial District Stabilization
  • Community Health and Safety

Read more about these investments in American Rescue Plan: Investing in Portland.

Program management

The ARPA Digital Divide Response Project is managed by the Digital Equity Strategic Initiatives Program in collaboration with partnering community-based organizations.

Results

We want to be transparent and accountable with how the City of Portland is spending American Rescue Plan money. Explore the different projects at our American Rescue Plan Open Data Portal.

Contact

Rebecca Gibbons

Strategic Initiatives Division Manager

Adriana Miranda

Community Engagement and Policy Specialist