New Westminster wants to help connect at-risk individuals to the services they need.
Council recently directed city staff to contribute up to 25 of the city’s decommissioned iPhones to the New Westminster digital inclusion project.
A staff report states the city’s information technology division will be deploying new smart phones to city staff in spring 2021 as part of a planned hardware refresh, resulting in about 25 decommissioned iPhone 7s that could be donated to the digital inclusion project. After being scrubbed of all their data, basic operating systems and useful applications for at-risk and vulnerable persons will be installed on the devices.
Last May, council directed staff to partner with Douglas College and the Lower Mainland Purpose Society on a COVID-19 digital inclusion initiative that included providing communications support in sourcing electronic devices, exploring the establishment of Wi-Fi hotspots in the community and reaching out to Internet providers about possible collaboration and partnerships.
A Feb. 1 report to council explains that more and more service providers, including government agencies and non-profit organizations, offer access to funding and supports on an online-only basis, leaving behind those who don’t have access to electronic devices or the internet.
“The lack of access to an increasingly digital society has become an acute and urgent challenge for at-risk and vulnerable populations,” said the report. “The pandemic has shown that access to digital technologies may even be considered a basic human right, as it is crucial that everyone has internet access and the skills and/or technical support to effectively function and navigate in an online world.”
According to the staff report, more than 60 devices have been sourced to date including smart phones, laptops and desktop computers. Efforts are also underway to provide internet access and education and training on the use and maintenance of electronic devices.
“At-risk and vulnerable populations are disproportionately excluded from digital means of communication because they lack the necessary devices and equipment, are inexperienced in using the technology or may not be able to afford the internet,” said the report.