Westchester County is partnering with the Westchester County Association (WCA), The STEM Alliance and the Westchester Library System in a new program Connect Westchester. It is designed to provide affordable internet access, affordable computers and free training in how to use the technology for low-income residents. The county says that the program is intended to “help all members of our community make a significant step towards achieving digital equity.”
The new program was announced Oct. 5. Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, Bridget Gibbons, director of the county’s Office of Economic Development, The STEM Alliance’s President, Margaret Käufer, WCA President and CEO Michael N. Romita and Westchester Library System Executive Director Terry Kirchner were among those who gathered at the County Office Building in White Plains to participate in the announcement.
From left: Ken Jenkins; Terry Kirchner; Bridget Gibbons
“This new initiative will serve strategically selected high need communities to connect our residents to affordable, reliable internet through the Federal Affordability Connectivity Program and provide devices and basic digital training skills to all of our residents,” Jenkins said.
Gibbons noted that the Covid pandemic pointed out the technology challenges many households face by not having internet and Wi-Fi.
“Students were trying to do their homework on their phone and it just didn’t work,” Gibbons said. “We realized it was a massive problem for Westchester that we had to address.”
Gibbons said that approximately 45,000 residents of Westchester do not own a computer.
“Approximately 75,000 residents do not have internet access in their house,” Gibbons said. “Of those with internet access, 76% have a household income of $75,000 or less, showing that affordable connectivity is an issue.”
Kirchner emphasized that the libraries in Westchester have been places for public computer and internet access since the early days of personal computing.
“We’re in every community and it’s one of our blessings but it’s also one of the challenges,” Kirchner said. “We discover that as individuals come in for one question oftentimes it leads to many, many others. As we’ve done more and more work with the internet, to be quite honest we’ve had the internet since the internet was born, we’ve always been the go-to place for those without access. But, you realize one question often leads to a different county service. This program will, I thin do a great job as we work with WCA and The STEM Alliance about how can we have a more holistic approach.”
Residents are invited to go online to The STEM Alliance’s website and fill out a form to begin the process of participating in the Connect Westchester program. People who do not have private internet access or a computer could use a public computer at a library to fill out the form. The STEM Alliance, which is a nonprofit based in Larchmont, also offers access to free online educational materials including tutorials for people who have little experience in using computers and the internet. The STEM Alliance website includes material in Spanish as well as English. The STEM Alliance website also provides links to companies that sell refurbished computers at prices ranging from about $100 to more than $1,000.