Breaking the Digital Divide

Kansas City and Washington DC are interesting test cases right now for how to bring high-speed fiber networks to communities. There are concerns, however, that the efforts are exacerbating, rather than bridging, the digital divide in communities.

Google Fiber announced this summer that it would bring an ultra-fast one-gigabyte (100x faster than current residential broadband networks) network to all of Kansas City. If neighborhoods reached a threshold of early signups then the entire neighborhood would have individual $300 installation fees waived. As they neared the deadline though it became clear that access to the network would likely break along the racial and income divide in KC — with lower income African-American neighborhoods not making the cut.

In the case of Google Fiber, one way to help break the divide is for Google to work closely with neighborhood associations and community organizers to ensure that the lower income areas are aware and assisted. Kansas City civic organizations took the lead in making this happen…something Google should have anticipated and been on top of from the beginning.

Another way to help is for the local government to work with nonprofits on how to provide “middle mile” and “last mile” service to ensure full access. In Washington DC, Broadband Bridge and DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) are two such organizations. DC-CAN is expected to ensure broadband access for 291 anchor institutions — schools, hospitals, libraries — that will then better reach low-income residents.

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