The Phoenix City Council voted on Sept. 15 to approve an additional $10 million in funding toward the expansion of wireless networks for underserved communities in efforts to close the digital divide.  

Eric Jay Toll, Communications Manager for the City of Phoenix, said in a press release that “more than 250,000 families did not have access or adequate internet speeds to go to school or complete assignments.” 

The digital divide is affecting the Phoenix communities where internet connection is not always available or fast enough, a problem for students learning through digital platforms particularly during the pandemic. 

“As we know when the pandemic hit, students were asked to continue their education digitally from home and many students didn’t have access to the internet and some didn’t even have a computer for use for schoolwork,” District 1 Councilwoman Ann O’Brien said.  

READ ALSO: Cox commits $60 million to close digital gap for low-income youth

“The need is urgent in my district,” said Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari of Council District 7. “We know the digital divide will continue to be an ongoing issue even after the pandemic … Many, many communities stand to benefit from this even though in-person learning is again underway. We would need to make sure that everyone has access.” 

Some potential hinderances are struggles to afford internet or lack of resources to laptops or other necessary equipment.

Phoenix tested the wireless expansion program, called Phoenix Digital Education Connection Canopy, over an 18-month period.

The canopy would provide free Wi-Fi for specific things, such as virtual classrooms, conferences, homework assignments and other school-related items for students and parents.  

Councilwoman Laura Pastor is assisting in leading the partnership with Phoenix College in providing the PHX DECC.   

The PHX DECC was aimed to provide a long-term solution in which the service would give a high-speed internet connection in the form of a digital canopy over the school district. 

“I think these are some of the best investments we can make especially with the permanency of this program and the fact that it’s infrastructure that’s going to be here for a long time and for future generations,” Vice Mayor Carlos said.

 “These items are just natural next steps to closing that digital divide amongst our students and residents,” O’Brien said.

Phoenix Union High School District and Alhambra and Cartwright Elementary School District were the first to join the program.  

“Connectivity is so important whether you’re filling out your FAFSA or doing your homework and I’m glad the city of Phoenix can be a partner,” Mayor Kate Gallego said.