With Clay Holk, Coronavirus Relief Funds Program Manager, the City of Tulsa
NCC: Tell us about connectivity initiatives in Tulsa.
City of Tulsa: Our first big project is called Connect Tulsa, which recognized the importance of having broadband internet, particularly for students and workers. What we wanted to do was offer subsidized broadband internet, particularly for households with kids who attended public schools in Tulsa. We’ve been working with Cox Communications to do it and they’ve been a really good partner.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we put together a working group with lots of folks from different organizations to think about what was needed. That is where the subsidizing broadband idea came from. We started the program and people began signing up around October. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, we had an organization called Tulsa Responds that came in and created a call center.
The idea was: you put in your contact information, somebody got in touch with you and talked through your situation and what aid was out there to support you. We actually picked up that infrastructure and have been using it to put the word out about Connect Tulsa.
Tell us more about your program to subsidize broadband subscriptions.
So it’s a great program through Cox Communications called Connect to Compete. It’s $10/month for the internet subscription and we completely subsidize that amount for low income households. As a result, we’ve had over 750 households sign up and are now receiving broadband internet that were previously disconnected. Maintaining the Tulsa Responds infrastructure allows people to have a low barrier way to go through, set up, and understand what documentation they need when they’re applying. That is super important.
Do you believe your community faces adoption challenges in addition to access?
I think that Tulsa Responds is kind of our best friend in that regard because they do a really good job of keeping track of where people are. So if we do have people who don’t know if they have the right wiring, for example, in order to get broadband, that’s generally something that we can learn.
There is even a larger question as well: how many people just don’t know that the program exists. Really thinking through the outreach is the most important part. And so that’s why we spend a lot of time working with the school districts in particular to say “Hey, if you can send home this flyer for families to know that there are options out there that that would be really, really great.”
The more steps that we put into this process to get signed up, the more people are going to fall out. The more we make the documentation requirements more strict, the more people are going to fall out. So that was something we had to think about. We have spent a long time working with Cox on a pre-cleared list for signing up and to create a predictive model that is able to pre-clear people rather quickly.
What other connectivity solutions has Tulsa pursued?
Tulsa is using park facilities to create school support camps, essentially for students who are attending virtual classes. By using these parks facilities, it gives students who might otherwise not have broadband access an opportunity to come to a location and access WiFi to use their devices. Additionally, the devices have been provided to them by the school district. This is an alternative to providing internet in kind at the household level. We see about 75 kids per week as part of that program.
We had initially set out to effectively create a giant hotspot at Tulsa Public Housing facilities. For a lot of reasons, it turned out to not be technologically feasible. We have adjusted planning a couple of times and have switched to providing access at the household level for everyone who is eligible.