On any given day, turn on the news or read the paper and it seems that one of the first words you’ll hear or see is “divide.” Whether political, economic or cultural, our American society today seems hyper-focused on the things that separate us as opposed to identifying and working toward solutions that can unite us and bring us close together.
And while there is much work to be done, there is also hope and great progress being made right here in Kansas City when it comes to bridging the digital divide. Ever since Google Fiber arrived on the scene in Kansas City in 2011, we’ve witnessed a shrinking digital divide and improved future prospects.
In this modern age, knowledge is power, but far too often that knowledge requires an internet connection and a level of comfort and familiarity with a computer. More than 30 percent of Americans don’t have broadband at home, and 29 percent of census blocks have no choice of broadband providers with Internet speeds of 25 gigabits per second.
This puts them at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to finding a job, completing homework, accessing health care, obtaining financial services and communicating with loved ones. For many, affordability and relevance remain the primary barriers to getting online at home.
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In my capacity, I have seen first-hand the great ways our community is working together to ensure access and digital equality for our community.
Between 2014 and 2015, Kansas City saw a 6 percent year-over-year increase in residential broadband internet usage. Google Fiber, along with partners like Connecting for Good, are working to continue this trend and improve online access and digital literacy by dramatically lowering the financial barrier to entry.
They have also invested in local nonprofits and organizations through the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund and the Digital Fellowship Program. These investments go directly to support community-based efforts that reach individuals who need it most.
When people first get online, it is incredible to see their faces light up at the wealth of knowledge and information that is now at their fingertips. Digital literacy truly has the power to transform people’s lives and improve communities. The people served by the organizations I am involved with are now able to access financial services, housing resources and meet basic needs because they are able to get online.
We owe Google Fiber, Connecting for Good and all of those working so hard a deep debt of gratitude. Google Fiber has expressly committed to being in Kansas City for the long term, and we can we look forward to working with them in the years to come to continue this important work.
And to those attempting to divide us even further, save your breath (and your advertising dollars).
Ron Farmer is co-founder of the Housing and Urban Development- approved nonprofit organization CHES Inc. He is part of the MoneySmart KC leadership committee and a member of the Alliance for Economic Inclusion. His prior business experience and designation as a Lean Six-Sigma Green Belt, along with a lifelong passion for helping others, were the catalyst for the creation of CHES, Inc.