Poverty: Program Offers Philadelphia’s Underserved Communities Free Computer Access

Michael Chekanski a Temple University student tells patron about Craigslist scams.

For most people, regular computer access is a must. Whether it be for school or work, it’s almost impossible to function without these necessary tools. Yet, 41 percent of Philadelphian’s do not have either reliable access to the Internet or a computer.

The Hotspot and Keyspot programs seek to address this need in poor and low-income communities through computer centers open to the public. Formally funded through federal stimulus money and the Knight Foundation there are around seventy Keyspot or Hotspot computer centers around the city. Unlike computer access at Free Library branches, there is no time limit and some locations offer much needed computer literacy workshops.

A man walks into the IDAAY building located on North Broad street.
A man walked into the IDAAY building located on North Broad street.

Funding for these programs ran out last year. Twenty-three of the original 79 Keyspots are operated with city funds. The rest are run by other non-profits such as Casa Monarca in South Philadelphia, which staffs its Keyspots with volunteers.

The Institute For the Development of African America Youth houses one of the Keyspots. Most people come to look for work online, staffers say. Work-study students from Temple University and specialist from the OIT staff the Computer Centers.

Anthony kings checks his email.
Anthony Kings checks his email.

Phone and Internet service in the United States is relatively expensive compared with the rest of the world. A 2013 study by the New America Foundation found that the best deal for a 150 Mbps broadband connection is $130/month in the U.S. By comparison, one can get a broadband package at comparable speeds for as low as $50/month in other parts of the world.

Comcast is the fourth largest cable company in the country and one of the largest providers of broadband service. A cable company has to use the public infrastructure or the public right-of-way to deliver service to customers. It rents this service from the city and Comcast is in negotiations now to renew its franchise agreement with the city.

Cap Comcast, a campaigns run by Media Mobilizing Project, sees this as an opportunity for Comcast to become more accountable to the poor and working class in Philadelphia.

For its part, Comcast has launched its Internet Essentials program, which provides low cost service to families whose children qualify for school free lunch programs.

– Text and images by Mamaye Mesfin

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