The latest citizen survey conducted by the Seattle (Wash.) Information Technology Department has found ongoing digital divide and equity issues, and city leadership said it will use findings from survey to pursue goals including 100 percent internet connectivity for residents.

The city department conducts a resident survey every five years to generate needed data and insight on internet access and use, devices, digital skills, civic participation, training needs, and safety and security concerns. Seattle just released the latest version of the study and will use the results to help guide the city and community digital equity programs to serve residents better.

“Improving digital access, literacy, and equity is essential to our city’s future and is a cause I have championed for years,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell. “As we continue to build One Seattle, we must remember that a strong, thriving city encompasses many aspects, and the ability to get online easily for work, school, and just the daily tasks that are now rooted in our connected world is essential for successful, healthy families.”

“I look forward to working with our community as we dig through this valuable data to develop further programs and partnerships that lead us to 100 percent connectivity for Seattle residents,” the mayor said.

The study is fueled by two different types of research – a citywide general population survey, and 40 focus groups. For this year’s study, Seattle received feedback from more than 4,600 residents.

The general population survey, which was conducted in eight languages, was distributed with the help of Seattle Schools and the Seattle Housing Authority and collected in person at events with the help of Tribal Technology Training (T-3). The city said the Seattle IT department received enough completed surveys from the Native community to have a statistically valid sample, which is important for addressing the unique issues that Tribal communities face.

“The City’s Technology Access and Adoption Report is a driving force for how we plan our partnerships and programming to support digital equity for our communities,” said Seattle Interim Chief Technology Officer Jim Loter. “This data-driven work will lay the foundation for our partnerships for several years. By partnering with key community groups to have a wider reach for the survey this year, I’m confident we can have a deeper impact in the work the City does to help our residents meet their digital needs.”

The study’s findings highlighted ongoing digital divide and equity issues within the city. In terms of digital divide concerns, the study found that:

  • One in 20 households have fewer than one internet device per household member.
  • One in six Native households dealt with internet outages of a month or more.
  • 71 percent have made a health appointment online, but lower income residents use telehealth services less.
  • 11 percent of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) households do not have internet access both at home and on-the-go.

The study also found that Seattle residents are interested in further training and education on technology use. More than half (54 percent) of respondents are interested in training on how to protect themselves and their data online. Additionally, focus group participants expressed the need for training in-person, online, and via hybrid means.

Overall, Seattle IT said that findings from this study reveal that the digital divide has shrunk somewhat. However, there is still work to do to ensure all residents have resources and access to digital tools and training.

On a positive note, the study found that home internet access in Seattle has increased from 95 percent to 98 percent since the previous survey five years ago.

“As the chair of the new Parks, Public Utilities, and Technology Committee, I’m eager to dive into the data on this crucial topic. Connectivity is key for our families and communities today,” said city Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth. “We are proud of the progress we have made in increasing digital equity; however, we must still look ahead to address remaining disparities. Understanding the data behind the work is critical as we look to revitalize our communities, support small businesses, improve the City’s infrastructure, and ensure all Seattle residents have the resources they need to thrive.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs