With investment comes opportunity. And no investment has promoted more opportunities over the past 15 years than the advancement of the Internet.
By MICHAEL LIIMATTA
Special to The Star
From 1996 to 2011, Internet providers invested nearly $1.2 trillion in the countrys Internet infrastructure, with $70 billion invested in 2010 alone. In addition, the broadband Internet industry and related information and communications technology industries support 6.3 million jobs annually in the United States.
However, a lack of investment in some areas has prevented many Americans from accessing the economic and educational promise that broadband delivers.
According to a 2012 study by the Pew Internet Project, educational attainment, age and household income are the three most critical demographic markers that determine home broadband access.
These groups have the lowest levels of home broadband access: adults who have not completed high school 22 percent; seniors aged 65 and older 30 percent; and families making less than $30,000 a year 41 percent. These are compared with adoption levels of 85 percent for college graduates, 76 percent for adults under age 30, and 89 percent for those making at least $75,000 per year. And while about two-thirds of white Americans have broadband access, African Americans and Hispanics trail significantly at 49 percent and 51 percent respectively. It is estimated that only 30 percent of students in Kansas City Public Schools have access to Internet at home.
Considering the tangible benefits that home broadband access can bring, its clear that something must be done to bridge Americas digital divide. Specifically, the government needs to encourage investment in broadband by reducing regulatory burdens that deter the build-out of local networks. Google Fiber offers free Internet service for at least seven years, with a low construction cost of $25 per month for 12 months. If other Internet Service Providers were afforded the same opportunities that Google Fiber has had in Kansas City, we would have vastly greater Internet access at lower costs throughout the country.
Broadband is a vital tool for our nations citizens, as it provides job opportunities, makes educational advancement possible and improves quality of life. Even though broadband is everywhere, many families especially in minority and low-income areas cannot afford the equipment to access it, nor do they possess the technical skills to adequately reap its benefits.
That is why Connecting for Good is working toward bridging the digital divide in under-served populations by providing in-home Internet connectivity, refurbished computers and free digital skills workshops to low-income areas of Kansas City.
Recently, in partnership with the Wyandotte Housing Authority, we finished building a free broadband Wi-Fi network at Juniper Gardens, the largest public housing project in the state of Kansas. The Juniper Park projects hotspot covers four city blocks and reaches 391 apartments and more than 1,000 low-income residents.
This new access, as well as affordable computers and digital literacy training, has enabled residents to use the Internet to connect with each other, find work, attain education and engage in the wired economy. With more investment nationwide in our broadband networks, opportunities abound for all Americans.
Michael Liimatta is the president and co-founder of Connecting For Good, a Kansas City-based nonprofit organization working to bridge the digital divide by providing underserved populations with Internet access, equipment, and training.