STATETECH: Could you talk about your digital equity efforts?
RUPERT: There’s a chunk of our population that isn’t fully online and is missing the benefits of that, whether that’s not feeling isolated if you’re a senior, being able to apply quickly for social services benefits or getting automatic telehealth reminders.
During the pandemic, we paid for folks’ internet through our Tech Together program. Then, after the pandemic started winding down, the federal Affordable Connectivity Program came out, which covers the costs for essential internet services in eligible households. So, we did significant outreach through schools and social services, made phone calls, and sent mailers and texts. We’ve been told by the federal government that D.C. had the highest uptake of any major area in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
There are also some places where service isn’t very good. Through our Community Internet Program, we gave internet service providers free access to the roofs of our 380 government-owned buildings. Within 30 days, they were able to create mesh networks that provided minimum upload and download speeds of 200 megabits per second to 2,500 households. Now, that number is up to almost 10,000 households. We held a summit, and we had a lot of major internet service providers come in to see what our first partners are doing and brainstorm on what’s next.
STATETECH: You identified the continued development of the new business licensing portal as a top priority. Where does development stand now?
RUPERT: As part of Mayor Bowser’s post-pandemic recovery efforts, we were tasked with making it as easy as possible to do business in the city. The process previously involved logging in to multiple systems to file corporate documents, business licenses or taxes. We worked with the involved agencies, figuring out the business processes and details and mapping those out.
In February, we launched the first version of the portal, and we released the fourth iteration in mid-May. After you get your license issued and you’re in business, you will now have a single dashboard that tells you when things are due and when your license needs to be renewed.
We also want to create portals for private citizens. As a parent, I’ve had to fill out plenty of permission slips for my kids with the same information every time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just go and say, ‘Is this stuff all still true? OK, send it to the teacher.’ Also, wouldn’t it be great if you could see that your child has had a library book out for four months? We’re thinking through all of these different things and trying to be proactive.