Santa Monica’s Digital Inclusion Pilot was chosen as one of the Top 25 Programs in American Government, by Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at John F. Kennedy School of Government. The City’s Digital Inclusion Pilot aims to close the digital divide while enabling economic mobility by training Santa Monica’s affordable housing residents to become the next generation of civic technologists. Participants are supported with foundational IT skills, opportunities to collaborate on Smart City initiatives, and access to the fastest residential internet in the world, right at their home.

Selected by a distinguished pool of researchers, policy experts, and practitioners, the Top 25 Programs in American Government represent the most innovative public sector programs offered in the nation.

“Harvard’s Ash Center is recognized as a thought leader for government innovation and data driven solutions,” said Joseph Cevetello, Santa Monica’s Chief Information Officer. “Receiving this recognition is a great achievement and shows the power of collaboration between the City and Santa Monica community. We hope our model can be a catalyst for further expansion of similar programs in other communities throughout the country.”

As resident Antonio Rodriguez describes his experience, “I grew up in low-income housing where attending trade schools or working minimum wage jobs after high school was the expected norm. But, I’m living in the hub of tech and design—Silicon Beach! I always wanted to become a programmer and creative artist. To be able to learn programming and visual design from the brightest minds in the field, and get fiber-optic internet has given me the edge to compete. Living in Santa Monica is probably, I think, the only reason why I was able to actually become who I wanted.”

The Digital Inclusion Pilot launched in 2015, and received seed funding of $175,000 as a part of City Council’s Strategic Initiatives to establish a model addressing the digital divide. The pilot connected ten affordable housing buildings with the initial funding round. The City then collaborated with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to leverage $1.85 million of Community Development Block Grant funding to expand to an additional 29 buildings, and that project is underway. When the new expansion is complete, over 900 low-income housing families may use the free Gigabit broadband delivered to their community room, purchase affordable Gigabit broadband delivered to their unit for $48 per month, and participate in no cost technology workshops offered onsite.

“Our community’s experience is shattering the antiquated notion of broadband, technology and tech education as a luxury,” said Gary Carter, the City’s Community Broadband Manager. “Residents are providing indisputable evidence of an ability and willingness to participate in civic innovation. Taking care of our most vulnerable first, sets a higher bar and we accept the challenge.”

The City partners with Community Corporation of Santa Monica, working on targeted outreach methods, assisting with operational tasks, and soliciting ongoing feedback. Tara Barauskas, Executive Director said, “Affordable access to this high quality, extremely high-speed internet helps bridge the technology divide for our low-income residents. It offers our youth the ability to keep up with their peers, helps families search for jobs, improves household budgets with affordable access, and provides vital technology training. We are grateful for the partnership and hope to see the Pilot expand in coming years.”

Santa Monica affordable housing residents interested in joining the Digital Inclusion Pilot can sign up at

Submitted by Constance Farrell