The City of Oakland, Calif., is now partnering with EducationSuperHighway on a new initiative to connect 90 percent of Oakland’s estimated 36,951 unconnected homes to high-speed broadband over the next five years.
The two organizations will partner on an initiative dubbed “Oakland Connect” to deploy EducationSuperHighway’s existing broadband adoption and free apartment Wi-Fi programs to help low-income Oakland residents overcome the trust and enrollment barriers unconnected households face when signing up for Federal broadband programs and home broadband service.
The new Oakland Connect program builds on Oakland’s existing #OaklandUndivided campaign, which has raised $17+ million, distributed more than 29,000 laptops and 10,000 hotspots, and fulfilled 10,000 tech support requests this past school year.
“Public-private partnerships, exemplified by the success of #OaklandUndivided, are critical to achieving equity in cities across the country,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Oakland is proud to partner with EducationSuperHighway, a critical leadership partner of #OaklandUndivided to remove affordability barriers and dramatically increase broadband access for our most vulnerable populations and close the digital divide for good.”
In a press release, Mayor Schaaf’s office said that #OaklandUndivided is a “collective impact, equity-focused initiative” created based on a partnership between Oakland Unified School District, the City of Oakland, TechExchange, the Oakland Public Education Fund, Oakland Promise, and over 15 leadership partners. The Mayor’s office added that through #OaklandUndivided, the partners have increased home access to a computer and internet for Oakland public school students from low-income backgrounds from 12 percent to 98 percent.
In addition to the #OaklandUndivided initiative, the city also began working on the OAK WiFi initiative in 2020. The initiative uses $7.7M of CARES Act funding to provide a network of live access zones throughout the city. The OAK WiFi initiative played a significant role in EducationSuperHighway’s decision to partner with Oakland on this pilot project. The City of Oakland explained in a press release that EducationSuperHighway’s existing free apartment Wi-Fi is modeled after the way Wi-Fi is delivered in most hotels today. Essentially, rather than buy a separate Internet connection for each room, the hotel buys a single internet connection for the building and then installs a building-wide Wi-Fi network. This new program will leverage OAK WiFi’s recently deployed fiber infrastructure to improve connectivity and adoption among a significant portion of the city’s least connected residents.
“The action taken to connect students during the pandemic provides a blueprint for a broad public-private partnership to close the broadband affordability gap,” said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway. “We selected Oakland to be EducationSuperHighway’s first pilot city not only because it’s representative of the broadband affordability gap nationally, but the city is leading the nation in its efforts to close the digital divide. We are thrilled to partner with Mayor Schaaf, Oakland Promise, and #OaklandUndivided to remove the barriers that keep low-income families from connecting.”