New York City Puts Internet on Wheels
The New York City Housing Authority takes an ice cream truck approach to providing computer and broadband access to citizens with its Digital Van program.
By Sarah Rich, Government Technology
Much like the lovable ice cream trucks that drive around neighborhoods and sell delicious treats, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is driving a van equipped with laptops, Wi-Fi and printers to communities in need of computer access.
The pilot project, called Digital Vans, began in February. The NYCHA started the program to help community members search for jobs online, print resumes and other general Internet use. The program currently uses one van, with another one purchased and slated to be put in service later this year. Each week the vehicle is parked at various locations in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn that have limited or no access to broadband or high-speed Internet, according to the NYCHA.
The van is outfitted with eight laptops equipped with Microsoft Office software, printers and broadband access. Those interested can use the van’s resources for as long as the van is open. (Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) If people are waiting, users are limited to a 30-minute session, said D'Andra Van Heusen-Thomas, NYCHA’s manager of educational services in the Department of Community Operations.
She said users working on resumes and cover letters are given a free 1 GB flash drive to keep for storing their documents.
The housing authority is funding this on-wheels program with a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The initiative is intended to help close the digital divide, said Van Heusen-Thomas.
“If you look at the trends, every government or city agency is trending toward using more technology for dealing with the public and providing information,” Van Heusen-Thomas said. “NYCHA’s mission is to be a part of that, and we want to make sure we’re keeping pace with other government agencies that are implementing these types of efforts — in terms of getting users to use this technology to conduct business.”
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