In an ever-growing technological world, “a computer of [one’s] own and a reliable internet connection” (Nebhrajani 14-15) are necessary components to thrive in today’s digital age. With many cities across the United States, the digital divide is representative of the disparity between different income communities who don’t have access to these tools due to a lack of income. The great Vice City of Miami is no stranger to this digital divide either. While Miami prides itself on its diversity, the same minority communities that contribute to the “city’s secret sauce” (Nebhrajani 16) are the ones that don’t have reliable internet access and are left behind. Nebhrajani states that in 2015 Miami “ranked [as] the seventh worst city in the country for internet access” (38-39). When one is barely making ends meet on a daily basis, having a computer with internet access is likely not a top priority. Unfortunately for the impoverished, it seems everything nowadays is done online from paying your bills to applying for a job to claiming your social security benefits. As such, people like professor Moses Shumow are making an active effort to provide reliable internet access to low-income communities like Liberty Square. Yet simply having internet access is not going to bridge this digital gap. The internet is your technological oyster and in order to truly alleviate the digital divide one must provide “a strong educational component” (Nebhrajani 67) to these minority communities in regards to technology. Therefore, companies such as Code Fever are educating families through coding bootcamps and classes that teach students how to program as well as utilize valuable applications such as WordPress. Now while Miami has built a great foundation for penurious communities to justly engage in the current digital age, it is important that this city continues to provide the resources and infrastructure necessary for its citizens “to keep pulling themselves up” (Nebhrajani 94-95). Miami already has the diversity. Now it merely needs to maintain an environment where people of various backgrounds can interact and collaborate on a digital level.
The article is written by Tracie Powell and begins by stating that in September of 2012, New Orleans became the largest city without a daily newspaper which made the residents some of the most disconnected in the country because only fifty percent of New Orleans had broadband internet service connections. “Those who had connections were mainly white and in higher income brackets” (Powell 4). Then on page one Powell goes on to discuss the implications of those without internet, how they would be even more disadvantaged, and what they would have to do to get information. She states, “It’s harder to profit from the investment in broadband infrastructure in rural areas where fewer residents live further apart. Among poorer residents, broadband – and even newspaper subscriptions – tend to be luxuries for job seekers or people who are still trying to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina nearly seven years ago” (4). “The Picayune’s decision to print only three days a week means fewer newspapers will get passed around local barber shops, beauty salons, cafes and convenience stores— places where many people who don’t have broadband access at home often go to exchange information about what’s happening in their neighborhoods” (Powell 5). Next, she states how there are more concerns about the business aspect of printing the newspaper three days a week than how citizens of New Orleans are going to get important information if not online (Powell 5). She makes the argument that less fortunate residents are still trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina which was, at that time, over seven years ago (Powell 9). Her argument is still true to this day fourteen years later. Next, she goes on to discuss the politics involved in this decision. She states that business executives and public officials support policies that favor telecommunication industries rather than making broadband more affordable (Powell 10). This has made New Orleans one of the most digitally divided cities in the country. This large divide is mainly due to policies that minimize competition for telecommunication companies, which keeps broadband prices artificially inflated and incredibly out of reach for poorer residents (Powell 10). Finally, she talks about a city in Louisiana, Lafayette, where only one municipal broadband network exists. On page eleven Powell states that, “the town’s municipal network offers cheaper service and is now listed as one of the fastest in the country”.
In rural areas such as Ferry County, Washington, the impact of the digital divide can be significantly more pronounced than urban areas such as Austin. Steve Lohr’s article “Digital Divide Is Wider Than We Think, Study Says” (The New York Times, 2018) takes a look at the way a lack of access to broadband internet connection affects this sprawling county. The Federal Communications Commission claims the entire area has access to broadband internet, but Lohr shows this isn’t accurate. Lohr begins by giving an account by Elbert Koontz, the mayor of Republic. Republic is one of the few areas in Ferry County with access to broadband internet, but “go beyond the cluster of blocks in the small town, and the high-speed service drops off quickly” (3). This highlights the main issue with the F.C.C.’s statistics; the model currently used considers an entire area to have access to broadband internet so long as someone there does. In reality, the vast majority of Ferry County residents are forced to drive into town in order to access the internet. Lohr then looks at the importance of access to internet in today’s America, and how severe of an impact these rural areas’ lack of it has. As Lohr puts it, “Fast internet service is crucial to the modern economy, and closing the digital divide is seen as a step toward shrinking the persistent gaps in economic opportunity, educational achievement and health outcomes in America” (7). In areas without decent internet connection, the simplest or even vital tasks such as transporting medical records are difficult to complete. In response to this, Lohr presents a possible solution from Microsoft that may help connect millions of new Americans to the internet. Microsoft’s plan is to “[harness] the unused channels between television broadcasts… to cover greater distances than wireless hot spots” (19). While there are still some obstacles for this technique to truly be effective such as the cost of devices that use these channels, the goals are coming closer to being met as time goes on. In fact, Microsoft is already far past its initial target, and continues to hit higher numbers. Some are worried that this may lead to Microsoft having both an unfair market advantage and government funding, but there are also some smaller companies that will be getting support from the F.C.C. to implement this plan; Declaration Networks has already received monetary commitments from the F.C.C.
In Hiroshi Ono and Madeline Zavodny’s study, “Immigrants, English Ability and the Digital Divide”, the two examined the extent of the inequalities between immigrants and natives of America, more specifically with information technology (IT). While there are many societal disadvantages immigrants face compared to natives, Ono and Zavondy say that the “lack of IT access and skills may be one of many barriers to socioeconomic advancement and assimilation for immigrants.” (1547) Ono says that while “the average education levels of immigrants has risen slightly since 1970, the gap between immigrants’ and natives’ average educational attainment has increased.” (1456) The article argues that those with limited English skills suffer from disadvantages stemming from being generalized with lower socioeconomic groups. One disadvantage is the number of years of education one has. The article states “56 percent of adult immigrants from Latin America have less than 12 years of education, compared with less than 17 percent of natives.” (1456-1457). English proficiency is an important obstacle to analyze while studying IT access and use. Ono and Zavodny say that “[m]ore than half of immigrants in the 2000 US Census reported they do not speak English very well. The vast majority of Internet sites are in English, with 68 percent of web pages in English and only 3 percent in Spanish.” (1457). Another important factor to look at is the social networks that would enhance one’s ability to acquire IT access and skills. The article states “Individuals with many friends and relatives who own computers and use email are more likely to do so as well because they have both a lower cost of doing so – because their network helps them learn how to use IT – and a greater return to use…:” (1458). Immigrant social networks lack the ability to help one another acquire access and a skill that no one has within the community. The results of the study were simple and expected. “The results indicate that immigrants are substantially less likely than natives to use IT for every measure of IT that we examine.” (1463) When looking at the results, it seems to be be that the gap between natives and immigrants widened during a six-year period spanning from 1997-2003. During this time, computer ownership and usage rates were up for both demographics, however the gap widened. Ono and Zavondy also found that “racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to own or use computers and the internet, while education and family income are positively associated with IT usage.” (1465). Ono and Zavodny prove that English ability and immigrants as a whole face massive inequalities in both access and usage of information technology.
Cecilia Kang Wrote the news article “Bridging a digital divide that keeps schoolchildren behind.” She begins by telling the story of how the Ruiz kids accomplish getting their online homework done without Internet access at home. They sit on the side of the street near school to connect to the school’s wireless hot spot. They sit for hours while they wait for their homework to slowly download. Their mother Maria states that she knows that it is important to have Internet to complete homework, they just do not have the funds. This does not only effect the Ruiz family, but also the other estimated four million families that do not have high speed internet in their homes. These families depend on buses, libraries, and fast food restaurants for free hot spot access. Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the Communications Commission, calls this the homework gap and says it is the cruelest part of the digital divide. She has research stating that “seven in ten teachers now assign homework that requires web access, yet one-third of kindergartners through 12th graders in the United States are unable to go online from home.” The lifelong plan was to be put in place by the Communications Commission. This included subsidies for broadband services in low-income homes. The Obama administration also put free and affordable broadband into public housing. “Broadband is like the air we breathe,” said the executive a nonprofit called Common Sense Media. He says that the internet is essential to both school and jobs, so it is important to make this available to people who cannot afford it. Kang also cites a story about a family that lives off a one-lane road in town. They are not able to have broadband access because the provider cannot bring service to their street. The daughter relies on the long bus route to and from school to get good grades. She spends around three hours a day riding the bus around her town. The free internet access on the bus is her only option to get her school work done. The superintendent of the school district in McAllen, Texas says schools and teachers do not have much of a choice but to require technology for class work. They try to have technology in the classroom so students can be prepared for the real world that is full of technology. She said they are expanding the area of their broadband access 24 hours a day, so students can stay around school and get their work done. The city of Pharr is proposing using local taxes to provide service to all homes and spots around town. Both national and local governments are trying to bridge the homework divide that is keeping children behind.
Access to the internet in St. Louis is pretty remarkable – the north and south halves of the city are completely divided on connectivity. Over 41% of all the households in the northern half of the city have no access to the internet, while it’s less than 30% for the vast majority of the southern half of the city (see image attached on second page). This split is referred to as the “Delmar Divide” because Delmar Boulevard functions as the border between the two halves of the city. If you live north of Delmar, you are far less likely to have internet access at home than if you live south of Delmar. The numbers are very compelling. Of the 101,000 city households south of Delmar, about 20 percent do not have access to the internet. North of Delmar? Of the 36,000 households, that number skyrockets to 44 percent unconnected.
Households North of Delmar have two main options for internet access: AT&T and Charter. According to BroadbandNow, the cost to be covered by one of these companies is at least $45 per month. In the least connected areas of the city, over a third of people who reported income in the past year were below the poverty level. For those below the poverty line, $45 for internet every month is far too expensive. Fortunately, there are other options for low-income St. Louisans. Many turn to places that offer public WiFi, such as the St. Louis Public Library. A representative from the St. Louis Public Library says that every year the free WiFi is used two million times to access the internet across the library’s sixteen locations. In addition, providers have taken steps to offer internet to low-income households at a significantly cheaper rate. AT&T now sells reduced speed WiFi to some households for just $10 a month and Sprint donated tablets and wireless service to 1,000 St. Louis public school students last year. Still, in many areas north of Delmar, two out of every three households remain unconnected.
The impact of the severe digital divide in St. Louis can be felt in the city’s schools and universities. According to Shea Kerkhoff, an assistant professor of secondary education at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, students without internet access at home are severely disadvantaged in the education system long term. Even if teachers correct for the digital divide by providing unconnected students advantages within the classroom, those students will still be far less digitally-literate than the students with internet connected homes. Kerkhoff says, “People need access to the internet to apply for college, to apply for scholarships, to apply for jobs.” The lack of internet at home means huge disadvantages for people trying to better themselves by going to school or getting a job, and the disadvantages are most common north of Delmar Boulevard.