Identifying Barriers to Accessing Broadband and Digital Tools

San Leandro, CA
Menlo College



Digital Divide, Equity

Procurement Method:

University Partner:

Menlo College

Partnership Description

The City of San Leandro will be working with Shalini Gopalkrishnan, Visiting Professor, at Menlo College to study the digital divide in San Leandro. Employing both qualitative and quantitative methods, Dr. Gopalkrishnan will study four facets of digital inclusion: Advocacy and Awareness, Internet Access, Devices, and Digital Skills. The research will inform the city’s efforts in increasing the efficacy of its existing broadband network. As a resident of San Leandro with prolific engagements (volunteering, partaking in initiatives, teaching, etc.), Dr. Gopalkrishnan is excited about the opportunity to bring aboard her fellow San Leandro community members to the project. Read more of Dr. Gopalkrishnan’s work here:


The City of San Leandro is seeking an equitable solution to increase access to broadband, devices and training to promote digital literacy for our residents.


The City of San Leandro has invested significant resources in recent years in Public Wi-Fi and broadband infrastructure. During the same period, through partnerships with local nonprofits and the launch of a hotspot lending program at its Main Library, the City has also sought to address issues of digital inclusion, which includes access to broadband, hardware, and training for digital literacy skills. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the digital need with the shift to distance learning for students, teleworking, and many events and services being delivered online.  

In the 16 week window of the STIR Labs program, the City would like to: 

  • Understand how the community is utilizing its Public Wi-Fi and broadband infrastructure,
  • Understand the effectiveness of the hotspot lending program in addressing the digital divide.
  • The City also seeks to identify the barriers to accessing these programs and develop testable solutions to remove those barriers and expand usage. 

Driving this research project would be the following questions:

  • How does the public utilize the City’s existing broadband programs; 
  • How effective are these programs at addressing the core need of the digital divide; and 
  • What can the City do to improve upon, expand, and/or enhance these programs in terms of their effectiveness, reach, and scope? 

Academic research teams will have access to: 

  • Key City Staff for feedback   
  • Community partners including school district staff and nonprofits 
  • Relevant data, including all Public Wi-Fi system records and Library checkout records for hotspots and laptops 
  • Community interviews and focus groups, to be coordinated by the City 

In addition to the above, academic teams can leverage the City of San Leandro's Fiber Optic Master Plan & Smart City Strategy report which was published in 2018 detailed the gaps in access to broadband and computers in homes. The report highlighted the digital divide across income levels.  

Requirements & Outcomes

The IT department seeks a research team collaboration with the following outcomes: 

  • Determine how the community is utilizing the existing public Wi-Fi system and what purposes, populations, and uses it is currently serving; 
  • Measure the effectiveness of current hotspot lending program; 
  • Identify areas of additional need, including digital literacy needs 
  • Identify how digital divide is geographically dispersed within throughout the city  
  • Recommend how programmatic efforts and investments can better meet existing and unmet needs  

STIR Labs Research Challenges Published

Learn how you can tackle the challenges at our informational webinar