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.