Fed dollars will upgrade computers at city buildings

Boston’s community centers and libraries will get upgraded Internet service in the coming months thanks to an influx of federal dollars. The expansion of the Boston Broadband program was announced on Tuesday during a press event at the Mildred Avenue Community Center in Mattapan, one of the first city-owned facilities to see the enhanced technology. 

It is not yet clear whether four city libraries—including the branch in Lower Mills— that have been targeted for closure next year by the Menino administration will receive the upgrades, a city spokesman told the Reporter.

The expansion is funded by $1.9 million in a federal stimulus grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment act. The funds will be spent on 627 brand new computers and accompanying software, which will be distributed across 48 tech centers by next year.

“This is an important first step for us in expanding broadband access across the city,” said Boston Chief Information Officer Bill Oates.

The goal of the program is to increase computer literacy and Internet connectivity among city residents and to provide more access to employment opportunities, especially among young adults and seniors. City officials expect to service an additional 18,000 residents per week. The centers will also serve as study halls for the MCAS, provide health information, basic job skills, and access to multimedia tools.

Multiple city agencies were involved in bringing the program to a wide range of people, including the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, and the Housing Authority. As such, computers will be sent to several housing developments, community centers and at least 22 library branches. According to program officials, the four library branches at risk of closing, including the Lower Mills branch, would also be among the number of eligible computer centers due for an upgrade, bringing the total number of facilities affected by the program expansion up to a possible 52.

Part of the stimulus grant will also be invested in hiring local instructors for computer workshops, offering some limited gains for employment in local neighborhoods.

In the future, the Broadband Program plans to expand its “Broadband Goes Home,” a family computer training course that provides students with discounted computers upon graduation.

“Technology should be the great equalizer,” said Mayor Menino, who cut a ceremonial ribbon at Mildred Avenue. “A community resource that gives everyone the opportunity to enhance their lives for years to come.”