NYCHA is using “Digital Vans” to promote sustainable technology for residents of public housing in the city. Atefah Riazi, who is NYCHA’s chief information officer and acting general manager, is promoting the project in an attempt to narrow the digital divide faced by U.S. families earning less than $25,000 per year.
According to Riazi, about forty percent of NYCHA residents don’t have Internet access from home. With the average income of these residents resting at about $23,000 per year, it’s not surprising that most residents cannot afford the cost of broadband Internet.
Some residents have cell phones with internet access, but many important functions are limited on them—completing homework, creating documents, applying for jobs, and printing are all difficult, if not impossible, from a cell phone. “I’ve never seen a seven-year-old do homework on a cellphone,” said Atefah Riazi when explaining why cellphones are not an adequate substitute for a computer.
The digital vans—of which there are currently two—service 19 public housing developments all over the city. Each van has eight laptops and broadcasts wireless Internet, which is also accessible to residents with their own computers. Staying for a few hours at each location, the vans are free to use and bring Internet right to the doorstep of residents. They allow much longer usage times and less waiting time than other free computer labs in the city.
It takes about two weeks for the vans to make each of the nineteen stops. The implementation of a project like this is a big step toward bridging the technological divide and providing less fortunate Americans with the resources they need—which, according to Riazi, many don’t have.
John Gittens, one of the digital vans’ “customers,” uses the computers to job search and do research on how to create a large-scale community garden—his personal dream. He praises the program as “the best idea they’ve ever had,” and says that it provides a great opportunity to teach people how to use computers, which is a vital skill in today’s world.