Internet, Device Access, and Digital Skills in Rural Southwestern Pa.

with Sarah Radcliffe of Computer Reach

Dara Brown, on location at Net Inclusion 2024 in Philadelphia, is joined by Sarah Radcliffe, Digital Navigator for Computer Reach in Pittsburgh. They discuss the importance of digital connectivity and skills training.

“A lot of people who didn't have a device before, have never had a device, or wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford one, are getting them,” Radcliffe says. “Those who need it are getting the necessary digital skills to build confidence in themselves, to do anything, go to school, work, do a telehealth appointment.”

Posted on:

March 29, 2024

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Brown: Technology has the power to transform lives and communities. But, in rural America, access to internet and technology can be limited. Hello. I'm Dara Brown, and this is "Getting Connected" powered by "Comcast Newsmakers." We're here today at the Net Inclusion 2024 Conference in Philadelphia. I'm joined by Sarah Radcliffe. She's the Digital Navigator for Computer Reach. Sarah, thank you for being here.

Radcliffe: Thank you for having me.

Brown: Computer Reach has a plan. Tell me where it is right now.

Radcliffe: So, right now, we have my Digital Navigator Program, which is funded by through the NDIA. And we are really just working on rolling out digital navigator services. We assist a little bit with broadband infrastructure and things like that, but the main thing that we do is device access. We're an in-house refurbisher as well as digital navigator. So, I provide devices to everybody who comes through my program. And, on top of that, I do a year of tech support and training, depending on what they need from me. And, really, we just try to do that wraparound service where we're helping with internet, device access and the digital skills.

Brown: And what would be next for Computer Reach?

Radcliffe: So, our goal now, this program only has funding until August of 2025, and so the goal is to continue to expand the program and to hopefully secure sustainable funding for the future. We would like to expand. We have Allegheny County right now and Washington County in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We would like to expand to Greene and Fayette. That's the next goal. From there, we would like to move further into Pennsylvania. We would like to move partially into West Virginia. But we really just want to create almost like a network of digital navigators who can become a sort of resource hub for Southwestern Pennsylvania and refer them to other nonprofits and other services that maybe we don't offer.

Brown: Can you share with us the impact you've had on the community and also the partners you're working with?

Radcliffe: So, we measure impact through data. We collect data at the beginning of my time with my end users. We measure their confidence levels with technology and things like that. And then we do follow-up surveys and exit surveys throughout the program where we see kind of where they've gone, how confident they are now with technology and using the internet for certain services and things like that. And, so, what we're seeing -- my program has only been happening for a year, but we've already served a ton of people. And what we're seeing through the impact reports and the data is that we are giving out a lot of devices. And, so, a lot of people who didn't have a device before, have never had a device or wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford one are getting them. And, those who need it, are getting the necessary digital skills to build confidence in themselves to do anything, go to school, work, just how to do a telehealth appointment, things like that. And our impact is great in digital inclusion, but we also try to help our end users with anything that's going on in their life. And that's kind of where the partners come in. We have a lot of really great partners in Washington County. We're partnered with Ignite Business Incubator, which is through Washington & Jefferson College. They are a nonprofit that helps with workforce development. They help people create small businesses and they fund them. So, we work with them and we help a lot of people create small businesses that will stay in Washington. I work with a company called Southwest Training Services. They're also a PA CareerLink. And they are the ones who funnel in a lot of the high schoolers to us. The goal with those students is to give them the laptops, give them digital skills training and I also help a lot with like college preparedness and things like that. And the goal is to get them to go to college and to want to stay in Washington and create businesses and diversify the economy and continue to improve the situation for everybody in the community.

Brown: And tell me about the connectivity you have and where you need to be.

Radcliffe: So, broadband infrastructure in Southwestern Pennsylvania is not great. We don't have a ton of funding for it. We have a lot of mountains and rivers and things like that and it kind of gets in the way. Right now, our broadband commission is working with local ISPs to lay fiber down what is known as the National Pike. It's a major highway that runs through Washington County. And the goal from there is to hopefully continue to lay fiber in other parts of the county and to expand off the Pike and to just overall improve broadband infrastructure in the area. It's not great right now. And, so, we would like more and better infrastructure.

Brown: Sarah Radcliffe, thank you so much for your time today.

Radcliffe: Thank you for having me.

Brown: And thanks to you as well for watching. For more conversations about digital equity and broadband expansion, visit I'm Dara Brown. ♪♪ ♪♪

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