CLICKS Seniors, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Neighborhood Centers’ photostream

Pittsburgh has become a leader in information technology and innovation in recent years; however, far too many of our residents still lack access to the Internet and even to computers. For families struggling just to keep the lights on and feed their children, Internet access is low on the list of necessities; however access to the Internet and to learning tools from computers to tablets is becoming more and more important every day. We must find innovative new ways to bridge this digital divide and to provide all of our residents access to computers and the Internet.

1. Leverage Existing Resources

The growth of Pittsburgh’s tech sector and the invaluable support of our philanthropic community has provided us with incredible resources and opportunities that we must do a better job of leveraging for those living in poverty. Companies like Google and the plethora of start-ups emerging from our universities and medical centers every year are natural partners to help us bridge the gaps of technological literacy and access to the Internet. Similarly, our world-class system of Carnegie Libraries and our foundation community offer the infrastructure to help us build a connected and technologically literate Pittsburgh for everyone.

As Mayor, I will work with Google and other companies and with our partners in the foundation community to pilot a free Wi-Fi service to blanket targeted communities. In addition to providing free access to the Internet, we will outfit city operated senior and recreation centers, and nonprofit community centers with computers and other technologies to make use of this free access. As this model proves effective, we can spread it throughout the city to truly close the digital divide and provide the opportunities that come with technological advances to all of our residents.

2. Promote Technological Literacy

Once the infrastructure of Internet access and the technology to take advantage of it is in place, it is also critically important that residents know how best to use it to find a job, stay connected with what is happening throughout the city and the world, and communicate. We should work with our partners in the tech center to create an education program for basic computer and Internet literacy skills and reward graduates with a free refurbished computer to take home and share with their family. Combined with a program to provide free high-speed Internet access, this initiative will put technology into the hands of people throughout our city.