How Cities are Managing Connectivity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

City leaders are tackling connectivity hurdles in a variety of ways and working with telcos to maintain a semblance of normalcy among civilians during the COVID-19 outbreak.

To facilitate knowledge sharing — specifically about COVID-19 — between city leaders, Dr. David S. Ricketts, Innovation Fellow at Harvard TECH, hosts a weekly Zoom call to discuss the challenges cities are facing and how they are being addressed. 

This week, participants discussed connectivity for citizens and the role of telcos, as well as online tools for public engagement. To help assist cities that were not able to join us, we are compiling the information from the digital convening in this article.

COVID-19: Keeping Citizens Connected While Separate

As people are asked to stay at home, moving both work and education online, the role of telecommunications companies (telcos) and internet service providers has become increasingly important during this difficult time.

We were joined on this week’s call by city leaders from Philadelphia, Miami, L.A., Reno, Pittsburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Carlsbad, Amsterdam, Cork, Bloomington, and Springfield. 

Here are some examples of what cities and telcos and are doing to make life a little easier for citizens:

Los Angeles: Telcos to the Rescue

Companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and Charter Spectrum have responded to the internet needs of Angelinos by reducing data caps and in some cases, offering free access for 60 days.

To help citizens find the best connectivity available, Los Angeles has created a public-facing website that lists all the deals in one place:

L.A. County and USC have also created an interactive map to show how many broadband providers there are in each residential area, which can be viewed HERE.

Philadelphia: Computers for the Kids

Computers for the Kids

As cities struggle to understand where under-connected communities exist, some have turned to data such as kids to receive lunches at school.

The School District of Philadelphia is loaning 70,000+ Chromebook laptops to district students K-12 who don’t have a device at home so they can continue to participate in classes which have moved online. The laptops can be returned once schools reopen.

T-mobile and Comcast are supporting the initiative by offering deals such as 2 months of free internet access. Comcast Infinity WiFi hotspots are being made available in Philadelphia regardless of whether families are subscribed to the service. The City of Philadelphia is compiling a map of all free WiFi in the city and will post it to their website soon.

Three Cheers for Wi-Fi

The biggest takeaway from speaking with city leaders was that every city should compile internet and hardware offers in their respective areas and make it available online for citizens.

In Bloomington, Indiana University set up “Lot Hot Spots” where free Wi-Fi is provided in the college parking lots so users can maintain social distancing while accessing the internet from their cars.

U.S. residents can input their zip code into this website, and find low-cost internet and in their area. The FCC also provides a general broadband map HERE.

Amsterdam is launching an ad campaign to tell citizens how to get easy access to connectivity.

You can see what each Telco is doing in the UK on one site HERE.

While city leaders are grateful to see telcos step up to help their citizens, several in the U.S. shared concerns about Telcos possibly using this pandemic as an opportunity exploit by requesting a fast track deployment of more infrastructure that may not actually be needed.

Video: AT&T, Comcast help amid Covid-19 Pandemic

We asked: Which Tools Do Cities Use for Council Meetings and Citizen Engagement?

  • Reno: Google Hangouts for internal and external meetings
  • L.A.: Zoom for public meetings, GSuite and Google Hangouts for internal and a telework site for all info on access:
  • Carlsbad: Zoom and Microsoft Teams
  • Dublin: Zoom for internal and external meetings
  • Belfast: Skype for Business internally and GoogleHangouts with the university
  • Amsterdam: MS Teams and Zoom
  • Henderson: a combination of Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex. 

TIP: Some communities aren’t well connected, so don’t forget the radio!

How to Participate in the City Leader COVID-19 Discussion:

If you are a city leader, you can join the discussion for signing up for the forum here.

This will give you access to the:

    • Online Forum
    • City Leaders WhatsApp
    • Weekly Covid19 Zoom Call

We hope to see you there!

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