Connecting Residents in Arlington, Virginia

With Holly Hartell, Assistant CIO for Strategic Initiatives at Arlington County Department of Technology

How do you communicate with residents in Arlington? 

To ensure that the communications are clear and consistent, four goals have been defined as guideposts for the County efforts:

  • CONNECTIVITY: Arlington residents are able to connect to affordable broadband internet.
  • ACCESS: All residents can access the internet with a device.
  • EDUCATION & TRAINING: Residents have the appropriate digital skills necessary to be successful on the internet.
  • PROGRAM SUSTAINABILITY & COMMUNITY CAPACITY: Arlington’s strategies to achieve its digital equity goals are sustainable and the community is engaged on the issue.

The roadmap toward these goals will ensure that all Arlingtonians have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in the community and economy.  Multiple communication channels are being utilized to gain insight and share updates with the Community related to these goals.

The Digital Inclusion Network is a group of primarily nonprofit providers and others interested in furthering the discussion on digital equity in Arlington. The purpose of the Network is to inform those who work closely with the impacted groups in Arlington in addition to gathering input and feedback on the development of strategies and action steps that should be included in a policy framework to support the County’s digital equity goals. The group met several times prior to COVID-19. During COVID-19, we have used an infographic and email to stay in touch. We will be hosting a virtual meeting for the Digital Inclusion Network this fall.

The County recently completed a survey and series of focus groups to gather input from those most directly impacted by digital inequities. It is critical for the voices of those who are directly impacted to be elevated and included in County efforts and long-term plans. Not only was the study very informative in terms of specific data but the stories and anecdotes captured created a powerful backdrop to understand the data. The results of the survey and focus groups will be presented to the Digital Inclusion Network meeting.   

Through the past year, updates have also been provided to a variety of County commissions whose interests overlap with the digital equity. 

Internally, the digital equity team is made up of a cross departmental core group of departments, including Department of Technology Services, Libraries, Community, Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD), Department of Human Services, and Department of Parks. Each department provides a unique perspective and area of expertise that ensures a comprehensive evaluation and alignment with the priorities and goals of each department. Our internal outreach extends to a working group of additional departments as well as the Arlington Public Schools. It is through this diverse group that the County has capitalized on its deep knowledge and existing relationships to further communication opportunities for residents.  

Please give us a brief overview of the broadband landscape in Arlington. 

According to FCC 477 data, the entire County of Arlington has the bare minimum of the 25/3 Mbps and at least two providers. However, not all residents have at home internet access.  American Community Survey data indicates that 16% of households do not have a fixed home broadband internet connection (cable, fiber optic or DSL).  A disproportionate percentage of this number is made of traditionally underserved communities. Our challenge is clearly one of affordability and not access.  Thus, efforts have been focused primarily on how to support those who struggle to have reliable internet access. The pandemic brought this disparity into view for Arlington as well as the rest of the Country. As we focused on how we could support the community, several initiatives rose to the top. 

The County utilized its existing County owned fiber infrastructure and moved to create outdoor WiFi hotspots. To date, there are 17 outdoor hotspots available in the County. WiFi access includes streamlined access to the Arlington Public School network for school devices. The County also partnered with Arlington Public Schools to participate in Comcast Internet Essentials program that would provide internet free of charge to qualified households. To further facilitate education access, the County is further extending streamlined WiFi internet access to the APS network in areas of greatest need.

Arlington continues to innovate and explore new and better ways to ensure all Arlington residents have an equitable opportunity for broadband access.

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