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Oakland to offer free internet for public housing residents to bridge digital divide

Jessica Flores, San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland plans to provide free high-speed internet access for residents in public housing in an effort to close the digital divide, officials announced.

The Oakland Housing Authority plans to supply 1,117 households in the city’s five largest public housing communities with free wireless internet access by 2024, city officials said in a statement Saturday. Community rooms and areas will also have free Wi-Fi.

The effort is part of the Oakland Undivided campaign, which seeks to bridge the digital divide for public school students and their families in West and East Oakland. Since starting in 2020, the program has provided 97% of Oakland’s low-income students — a majority of them Black or Latino — with access to a computer, internet connection and “culturally competent tech support,” according to the campaign’s website.

“Internet access is essential for the success of our families in our digital world,” Mayor Sheng Thao said in a statement. “We are building more than housing, we are building homes where residents’ careers and businesses can grow, and their children can learn. Internet connection is an essential catalyst for economic development.”

In addition to adding free Wi-Fi for public housing residents, officials said they plan to continue providing home computers and internet access to all public school students.

“Oakland Undivided started as an initiative distributing hotspots and computers, and has evolved into an organization addressing structural barriers to accessing broadband,” Assembly Member Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, said in a statement. “More importantly, Oakland Undivided does everything with community as its central and core value.”